Washougal Rite Aid closes, cites cost-cutting measures

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Washougal’s Rite Aid store has closed in an apparent cost-cutting move by its parent company, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this year.

Rite Aid Corp. announced its intentions to shutter more than 100 stores across the United States in October and several dozen more, including its Washougal location, in November.

A sign posted to the store’s entrance last month informed customers that the store was set to close Tuesday, Dec. 5.

Rite Aid Corp. has operated the Washougal store since 2007, when it agreed to a 12-store swap with Longs Drugs.

Rite Aid spokesperson Catherine Carter said the company “carefully considers various factors, including business strategy, lease and rent considerations, local business conditions and viability and store performance, in its decision-making.”

“The decision to close a store is not one we take lightly,” Carter added.

“Rite Aid regularly assesses its retail footprint to ensure we are operating efficiently while meeting the needs of our customers, communities, associates and overall business,” the corporation said in a statement provided to the Post-Record. “In connection with the court-supervised process, we notified the court of certain underperforming stores we are closing to further reduce rent expense and strengthen overall financial performance. At this time, we have not made or confirmed any decisions on additional specific store closures as part of our financial restructuring process.”

The sign posted outside the store’s entrance informs customers that their prescriptions will be transferred to the next-door Safeway store.

“For our customers, we make every effort to ensure they have access to pharmacy-based health services, whether at another Rite Aid or other nearby pharmacy,” Carter said. “We work to seamlessly transfer their prescriptions to ensure there is no disruption of service.”

Carter also said that Rite Aid “strives to transfer (a closed store’s employees) to other Rite Aid locations where possible.”

“In fact, approximately 75 percent of our associates have accepted opportunities to transfer locations if their store has been or is part of the ongoing store closures,” she added.

Rite Aid Corp., one of the United States’ largest pharmacy chains, announced Oct. 15, that it reached an agreement in principle with certain of its senior secured noteholders on the terms of a financial restructuring plan to allow the company to accelerate “its ongoing business transformation” and initiate a voluntary court-supervised process under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

Reuters reported in October that Walgreens had agreed to pay Rite Aid investors $192.5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit in which Rite Aid investors accused Walgreens of “downplaying scrutiny from U.S. antitrust regulators” related to a plan for Walgreens to takeover Rite Aid, which was ultimately blocked by the Federal Trade Commission.

In March of this year, the United States government sued Rite Aid Corp, accusing the pharmacy chain of missing “red flags” for hundreds of thousands of prescriptions for controlled substances, including opioids.

In a complaint filed in Cleveland federal court, the Department of Justice alleged that Rite Aid repeatedly filled prescriptions between May 2014 and June 2019, which were medically unnecessary, for off-label use, or not issued in the usual course of professional practice, according to a Reuters report.

“The Justice Department is using every tool at our disposal to confront the opioid epidemic that is killing Americans and shattering communities across the country,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

Rite Aid pharmacists were accused of ignoring obvious signs of misuse, including in prescriptions for “trinities,” a combination of opioids, benzodiazepine, and muscle relaxants preferred by drug abusers for their increased euphoric effect, the report stated.

The Justice Department also said Rite Aid intentionally deleted some pharmacists’ internal warnings about suspicious prescribers, including one reportedly marked, “cash only pill mill???” while admonishing them to “be mindful of everything that is put in writing,” Reuters reported.

“These practices opened the floodgates for millions of opioid pills and other controlled substances to flow illegally out of Rite Aid’s stores,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said.