Rebirth Amid Destruction: Joplin Pharmacy Re-Opens Days After Devastating Tornado

by Chris Linville, Managing Editor, America’s Pharmacist

After a massive tornado tore through Joplin, Mo., on Sunday night, May 22, the path of wreckage in the aftermath was hard to fathom.

Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy Wreckage

Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy Wreckage

“It was just incredible,” said David Starrett. “You can see it on the Internet or on TV, but you have to see it in person to really understand it. You could do a 360-degree turn and see nothing but destruction.”

Starrett and his wife Sherree, who met when they were in pharmacy school at the University of Missouri at Kansas City in the 1970s, had owned the Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy  since they arrived in Joplin in 1984. Unfortunately for them, their store was no match for the huge storm.

Still, even though the 1,500-square-foot building lay in ruins, the Starretts were lucky (relatively speaking). In the rubble, David found intact the safe where he secured his controlled substances. Beneath some debris, some of his computer equipment, including his PDX server, had amazingly been spared from destruction and was in working order. (The Starretts were already backing up their data off site, so this was an unexpected bonus.) He was also able to salvage a few filing cabinets and a money bag with $200 in change. The paper files in his basement weren’t as fortunate as they were submerged in five feet of water. “If I get an audit, I’ll cry ‘tornado,’” he said jokingly.

One thing he didn’t do was sit still. By Tuesday, two days after the tornado, Starrett had managed to secure a 2,200-square-feet facility that was undamaged and had been vacated by the previous tenant only a few weeks before. The items recovered from his pharmacy were moved to the new building. He was also the beneficiary of some fixtures donated by another Medicine Shoppe owner in Missouri. Renovations had been done on that pharmacy and the owner had excess items to spare. Starrett secured a new Drug Enforcement Administration number and had a disaster waiver from the state to dispense medication. Cardinal Health was able to expedite shipment of OTC products and medications, and by Saturday, May 28, six days after the tornado, Joplin’s Medicine Shoppe was back in business.

New Location

New Location

“We were up and running and working to serve our customers,” Starrett says. “We have everything here that meets our needs. I’m just very thankful.”

The new location is configured in a manner that the Starretts could easily add a drive-thru window. They also plan to do some cosmetic upgrades to the facility. Starrett says the lease on the property is for 1-1/2 years, so there is no rush to make a long-term decision on where to continue the pharmacy, and if he would try to rebuild at the old site. He did say, “If business is good here in a year, why would you leave?”

Even with the pharmacy back up and running quickly, there were sobering reminders that things were far from normal. While none of his employees were injured, three of them lost their homes and cars. Sadly, the fatalities included about six of their pharmacy patients.

David says he and Sherree consider themselves blessed with the support they have received in time of need, from fellow pharmacists, colleagues at Pharmacists Mutual Insurance Co. and Cardinal Health, and his Joplin neighbors.

“We’ve had customers who lost their homes checking on us to make sure we’re okay,” he days. “Can you imagine that? That’s just amazing.

“I think the spirit of Joplin is alive and well. We may have taken a heavy blow, but were banding together to help each other out.”

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