Community Pharmacist Spotlight: Buddy Bunch

Owner and founder of Bunch Pharmacy shares how his pharmacy is making an impact in the health and wellbeing of his community.

Did you know as many as 60% of community pharmacies are located in rural areas that are medically underserved? The first component of health equity is access. That’s why community pharmacies play such an integral role in providing access to clinical services and lifesaving medications that might otherwise be challenging for patients to attain.

Bunch Pharmacy, located in Guntersville, Ala., is a prime example of the lasting impact that independent pharmacies make in the communities they serve. Its owner, Buddy Bunch, Registered Pharmacist, Pharmacist in Charge, has dedicated his entire career to going above and beyond to ensure patients in his community receive the lifesaving care they need. Earlier this year, Bunch Pharmacy was named 2022 Health Mart Pharmacy of the Year not only for Buddy’s commitment to serving his patients, but also for the outstanding work he’s done to advocate for the pharmacy industry.

We sat down with Buddy to learn more about his experience as a community pharmacist, what’s inspired his desire to serve, and why he’s advocating for crucial provider status legislation.

How did you get your start in community pharmacy, and what inspired you to open your own?

I fell in love with the idea of being a pharmacist at a very early age. In fact, it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. Of course I like to help people, but for me, it’s the friendships made with the people who walk through those pharmacy doors. Because they’re not just customers – they’re more like family.

I got my start at a local pharmacy here in Guntersville when I was just 15. I dipped ice cream and helped with whatever needed taking care of around the business. After graduating pharmacy school in 1978, I officially began my career at a location of an Alabama pharmacy chain and managed that location for 17 years. When that pharmacy chain got bought out in 1997, I figured if there was ever a time to start my own independent pharmacy, this was it. So I moved up the street and opened Bunch Pharmacy. Incredibly, nearly my entire customer base from my previous pharmacy came with me. It always comes back to having those relationships with those in your community. If you take care of them, they’ll take care of you.

What does patient care look like at Bunch Pharmacy?

Trust, accessibility and a high level of care are at the center of everything we do. I can’t even count the number of times a week I hear my customers say, “You know more about my medicine than my own doctor does.” We get to know each customer individually and give them the attention they deserve. In return, they feel safe asking us anything. Over the years, I've had customers who left Guntersville call me to ask questions about their medications because they trust I’ll know the answer and take care of them.

Buddy with Pharmacy Sign

What kind of community engagement have you and your team been involved in?

We've always hosted “health fair” types of events where we do health checks and annual biometric screenings, both in our pharmacy and at customers’ job sites. But we also love to give back to our community outside of the healthcare space – from supporting local clubs and civic groups to fundraising opportunities and school drives.

A few years ago, my late wife passed by an elementary school bus stop and noticed there were several kids who didn’t have coats. We had a terribly cold winter that year, so our pharmacy decided to hold a coat drive. The response was overwhelming. People brought in so many coats that we supplied enough not only for the children in that particular school, but for all the other schools in the county. The next year, the Chamber of Commerce honored us at an annual banquet. My wife had passed away by then, so we were very humbled to receive that recognition.

Why do you feel community pharmacies are critical to the health of patients in their communities?

Pharmacists have long been considered one of the most trusted professions out there, and that’s especially true for community pharmacists. In many rural communities, the closest doctor can be more than an hour away, so we’re often the first place they go for care. We do far more than fill prescriptions. We provide health screenings, point-of-care testing and immunizations for COVID-19, flu and many other illnesses, and we consult and educate patients on their health.

And while we’ve always said we’re critical to patient care, the COVID-19 pandemic has really exemplified that. If anything, it showed our determination to offer our services to the community and take care of them no matter the circumstances. Community pharmacies like ours did curb service and deliveries, and we had pharmacists and pharmacy technicians administering COVID-19 and flu testing and vaccinations. In short, we were always there for patients. We did whatever was required of us to look after the health of our communities.

What do you think community pharmacies will look like 10 years from now?

My hope is that we’ll have the ability to practice at the top of our license so that we can continue to provide exceptional care to the patients in our communities who rely upon us for their healthcare needs.

Community pharmacists today provide many clinical service offerings such as testing and vaccinations, but we want to be able to do more, like collaborating with patients’ doctors to provide treatment regimens. In the rural areas where we don’t have a lot of doctors, this would make an incredible difference for patients. If we come together to advocate for legislation that gives us provider status –meaning we will be reimbursed for these services – we can unlock incredible potential for community pharmacies to expand care services for our patients. Congress is currently considering HR 7213, the Equitable Community Access to Pharmacists Services Act, and I encourage everyone to write their elected officials in support of this bill.