More room for the medicine in Townshend

Messenger Valley Pharmacy enjoys refurbished, expanded quarters

TOWNSHEND — Finally, the prescription has been filled.

It may have taken more than a decade, but Messenger Valley Pharmacy in Townshend has now doubled in size.

The expanded pharmacy formally opened for business last week with a cheerful ribbon-cutting ceremony.

A variety of thanks to fundraisers and staff were offered by Andrea Seaton, vice president of planning and development at Grace Cottage Hospital, which owns the pharmacy, and Jim Heal, its director.

Hospital officials say the expansion and redesign offer much more elbow room and improve customer privacy options, although several ceremony participants said they might miss standing packed amid their neighbors while waiting for their medicines.

There's much more space for the five pharmacists and the patient support staff. And the non-prescription inventory has increased, including an array of miniature cars.

Though one person said sadly, “It won't look like a 'let's-play-pharmacy' anymore,” the new space clearly pleases pharmacy staff.

“I've been waiting for this [expansion] since the day I started,” said Jane Cyer, who has worked at Messenger for nearly 13 years and is a familiar sight behind the counter, where she quickly organizes everything.

The important role that Messenger plays in filling prescriptions for more than 5,000 residents of the upper West River Valley, including Newfane, Brookline, Townshend, Windham, Wardsboro, and Jamaica will now be more easily accommodated.

Now filling as many as 5,000 prescriptions a month - at times, 300 a day - Messenger opened as a full-time pharmacy in 1998 in its familiar building on Route 35, opposite the hospital.

Chief pharmacist Heal, 58, graduated from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy in Boston. That five-year degree requires a three-year residency and then a two-year pharmacy job. He worked at several large pharmacies before being offered the Messenger post in 1998.

“We expanded incrementally as business expanded,” Heal explained, noting that by now most of the community is getting prescriptions at Messenger. “We knew we needed to do something.”

Some $350,000 was raised by the community, according to Seaton, providing enough money to redesign the pharmacy space and to rebuild the red barn in the back of the building.

A $150,000 grant also came from the Fanny Holt Ames and Edna Louise Holt Fund, a charity dedicated to funding nonprofit health-care endeavors in and around Grafton. The organization has funded several other Grace Cottage Hospital projects.

Local architect Vince Hosford also volunteered his services. ServCorps, a nonprofit volunteer services organization from Connecticut that specializes in working with other nonprofits, sent 30 volunteers to help rebuild the barn in the rear of the building.

Heal described the pharmacy's continued use of Medicine-On-Time software as a significant aspect of its operation.

The program plans medication schedules for people taking multiple pills several times a day, usually elderly patients, with the goal of keeping patients at home and out of nursing homes.

“We have about 60 people enrolled,” Heal said, noting that the pharmacy has contact with the doctors, a reasonable procedure at Grace Cottage where most of the patients have been treated and continue to be treated.

“The program probably costs us about $5 per patient but because they get prescriptions here, we can capture that cost. And since Grace Cottage is a nonprofit, we offer it as a service to the hospital.”

A family's pharmaceutical legacy

Messenger Valley Pharmacy was originally funded by a grant from the Messenger family, explained Sarah Messenger, who with her husband Paul Weber, runs Boardman House, a bed and breakfast on the Townshend Green. Weber also teaches math at Leland & Gray Union High School.

For 30 years, her father worked at Eli Lilly in Indianapolis and bequeathed $100,000 worth of the pharmaceutical company's stock. Over time, Messenger gave that money to Grace Cottage for the development of the pharmacy, she said.

“I wanted to do something in his name,” Messenger said, “and to honor Vermont, which he loved. His ancestors were the first to settle Norwich,” she added.

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