Naples, Fla. – National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) regional chain and supplier members have gathered to confront an ambitious agenda of retail and pharmacy topics, at the first meeting of the year among NACDS’ calendar of strategically aligned conferences.This morning, NACDS leaders set the stage for Regional Chain Conference attendees to tackle issues ranging from Affordable Care Act implementation to digital’s impact on shoppers and stores, and to engage in highly interactive discussions and business meetings.

In the morning’s Opening General Session, Conference Chairman Jim Spencer, president, Kinney Drugs Stores, celebrated regional operators’ talent for “leveraging our nimbleness and knowledge of local markets in building custom strategies that appeal to our customers, local healthcare providers, and payers,” and the importance of executing those strategies “quickly and with precision.”

“A forum such as this, which includes both retail operators and the vendor community, provides us with a unique opportunity to listen, learn, share, and collaborate for the common goal of mutually growing our businesses while serving the wants and needs of our customers and our communities,” Spencer said.

NACDS Chairman of the Board Bob Narveson – president and CEO of regional chain Thrifty White Pharmacies – contrasted today’s emphasis on new pharmacy services with the nearly exclusive focus on dispensing medications, which characterized the past.

“Pharmacy is changing, and we have the opportunity to be part of that change, as long as we work together to improve our customers’ health and reduce the overall healthcare spend for our patients,” Narveson said.

Narveson emphasized that government advocacy remains vital to pharmacy’s cause, and he cited aspects of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ recently proposed rule related to Medicare Part D as an example of “our voice being heard.”

Narveson also advised attendees to begin planning immediately for the 2014 NACDS Total Store Expo, saying, “This meeting is all about preparation. It pays to plan ahead, and put together the right meetings that can make a difference for you. Now is the time to ensure your trip to Boston – August 23-26 – proves successful.”

He noted, “After the show last year, 92 percent of the attendees who completed a survey said that they would return to the show in 2014. That’s amazing, and if you take a look at just the regional chain company representatives who responded, more than 90 percent said the same thing. So, whether you are a regional chain or one of our partners, this event can work for you.”

Narveson delivered special thanks to supplier companies for their involvement in all NACDS conferences, and for “their commitment to the regional chains.”

NACDS President and CEO Steven C. Anderson, IOM, CAE, showcased the work of the NACDS Foundation – a separate charitable organization affiliated with NACDS that works to improve patient health through partnerships in the areas of research, education and medication management.

“When it comes to setting big goals – like improving public health – and attacking those goals, there are not many examples better than the NACDS Foundation,” he said.

Anderson showed a video, titled “Inspired,” that showcases initiatives supported by NACDS Foundation grants in the areas of emerging healthcare models, rapid flu and strep tests, primary medication non-adherence, and evaluating medication management and hospital readmissions.

He demonstrated that the NACDS Foundation’s work is focused on timely and relevant issues, noting that TV’s Dr. Oz commented on his show that he hopes to see rapid strep tests in pharmacies soon, and that preliminary findings from research related to medication management in accountable care organizations and medical homes was published in the Journal of Managed Care Pharmacy.

Following his remarks about the NACDS Foundation, Anderson introduced a panel discussion on the status of a host of public policy issues, and on NACDS’ member-focused approach to advocacy. In addition to participation from attendees, panelists shaping the discussion included Dennis Wiesner, H-E-B’s senior director, privacy, pharmacy and government affairs; Tim Weippert, Thrifty White Pharmacy’s executive vice president of pharmacy; and Carol Kelly, NACDS’ senior vice president of government affairs and public policy. The discussion included the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and of the new prescription drug supply chain law, CMS’ proposed rule on Medicare Part D issues, Medicaid pharmacy reimbursement, and the pursuit of “provider status” for pharmacists.

The Day-by-Day Schedule for the Conference details the diverse topics that attendees will address through the conclusion of the event on Tuesday. Additional general session topics include proven retail strategies; digital technology’s role in store operations and consumer behavior; employment policy trends; controlled substances and the Drug Enforcement Administration; telepharmacy; and pharmaceutical trends. Interactive Idea Exchange sessions will address a full range of additional issues, and One-to-One Business Conferences will empower chains and suppliers to meet in a productive format.

Photos will be available in the 2014 NACDS Regional Chain Conference Flickr set.