Celebrating Independent Pharmacy Champion Pete Stern – Part One
With Currus CEO Pete Stern retiring this fall, we take a look back at what brought him to the world of pharmacy and some of the accomplishments the organization saw under his first decade of leadership (1990-99).
Where are you from?
I was born in Houston, Texas.
What brought you to Kansas?
I came to Kansas to work at the Menninger Clinic as a music therapist. Menninger’s was one of the leading proponents of music therapy with psychiatric patients in the country and they had a six-month internship that turned into a full-time job.
My undergrad degree from Northwestern was in Psychology and I have always been interested in music and its impact on other people. I was in marching band for Northwestern and I started getting involved in music when I was in sixth grade so that’s always been a big part of my life.
I had never been to Kansas prior to starting at Menninger’s. To my surprise, it wasn’t as flat as I imagined it being and I’ve been happy to call Kansas home these past 40 years.
When did you start at Currus?
I started in September of 1990. Kansas Pharmacy Service Corporation (KPSC) was the name of the organization at that time.
What drew you to KPSC and independent pharmacy?
I knew the Executive Director of KPSC at that time, Helen Whitinger, and I contacted her when the job became available to ask her about the position.
I knew very little about pharmacy but I knew I wanted to stay in health care. Based on my conversation with Helen I decided to apply for the position because I thought it was a good opportunity and I wanted to help grow the organization. It was about a month and a half after I applied that I had found out I got the job.
What was the organization like when you first took over and what were some of the challenges you faced?
When I got here, my goal was to stabilize and grow the two main programs – the buying group (Pace Alliance) and the prescription benefit administration program, Prescription Network of Kansas (PNK). When I arrived, the Board had decided to go from one wholesaler to four wholesalers and I felt my job was to help grow the buying group across all four wholesalers.
On the PNK side, I really had to help increase business because we were losing money at that time. In 1993, we reached the $3 million mark in dollar volume – increasing from $115,000 when PNK started in 1985.
In addition to those two programs, I wanted KPSC to become a multi-faceted organization. We started offering member benefits and we got much more involved in state and federal advocacy starting in 1994.
What were some of the major legislative wins for KPSC during this time?
One win for us was getting involved in federal advocacy in 1994. After discussing health reform in Washington, D.C. with President Clinton, that really increased my appetite for getting more involved in advocacy on behalf of our independents.
When we started state-level advocacy in 1998, we worked with the Attorney General’s office to organize a bill that would provide oversight for prescription discount card programs. At the time, it was a very good bill and that was a success for our pharmacies. Our state-level involvement took off from there.
What other accomplishments occurred for KPSC during this time?
We started offering money-back member benefits in 1994 where we would reimburse members for different services. We had to make the organization more robust and this was one way to do that. This helped make us more useful and valid for independent pharmacies in the state.
Faxing for us started in the mid-90s where we would send regular fax-o-grams and communications to keep them up to date on all things pharmacy in the state. We even reimbursed our members for purchasing a fax machine.
Tell us about what led to the creation of the Entrepreneurial Opportunities Group (EOG) with the KU School of Pharmacy.
In 1997, the KU School of Pharmacy and KPSC met and came to the agreement that there needed to be a greater effort in educating students about careers in independent pharmacy. And because of those discussions, two things happened: we created the EOG and the school formed an NCPA student chapter.
We started creating and hosting events that would help educate students about the operational and service aspects of independent pharmacy. In 1998, we started offering scholarships to students who participated in certain EOG or chapter-sponsored events and provided essays to us to show a genuine interest in community pharmacy.
Some of the early scholarship winners are still independent pharmacy owners in Kansas to this day.
What was happening at the Stern family household during these years?
Two things happened in August of 1990. I found out I got the job at KPSC, accepted it, and in the same week, my wife Deb and I found out our second child was going to be a girl. Our first child, our son Charlie, was born in February 1987.
Caroline was born in January 1991. Pretty soon the kids started school, music, and sports; and pretty soon my hair started to turn gray.