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Walgreens turns health care focus to mental health

Walgreens pharmacists are receiving training in mental health care.

Walgreens is expanding mental health first aid training for pharmacists, while its U.K.-based Boots division is launching omnichannel mental health tools.

The drugstore giant is now offering mental health first aid training for more than 27,000 Walgreens pharmacists. Administered by the National Council for Behavioral Health, the training includes mental health literacy, understanding risk factors and warning signs for mental health, and addiction concerns and strategies for how to help someone in both crisis and non-crisis situations.

Walgreens and the National Council and American Pharmacists Association spearheaded the initiative to create a training program specially tailored for pharmacists, which is now available industrywide. The retailer first introduced mental health first aid training for certain employees in its HR department in 2019, and later made the program available for some of its pharmacy staff, including those focused on improving health outcomes.

As Walgreens begins to expand the training to be available for all of its pharmacists chainwide, the company has been prioritizing its retail locations in areas most impacted by the pandemic. In Europe and the U.K., Boots has also completed a mental health first aid training program for some pharmacy staff in store roles, as well as support office functions and Boots’ pharmacy support help desk.

Walgreens has been recently increasing its general focus on health care, making moves such as announcing a new “consumer-centric” health care strategy to drive long-term profitable growth. The plan features the launch of Walgreens Health, a new business segment enabled by the company’s recent $5.2 billion investment in VillageMD, as well as its investment in CareCentrix. Walgreens described the segment as a “technology-enabled care model powered by a nationally scaled, locally delivered healthcare platform.”

Walgreens is not alone in diving deeper into health care. Rival CVS Health offers walk-in, urgent care services through its in-store MinuteClinics. The chain is also transforming more of its locations to its HealthHub format, which offer expanded MinuteClinic services. And Walmart is expanding its freestanding health care format, Walmart Health.

“The majority of our patients and customers see their pharmacist more than they do any other healthcare provider, and especially now, pharmacists can play an even greater role with the additional training to help those who may be in crisis,” said Rick Gates, senior VP of pharmacy for Walgreens. “The pandemic has exacerbated what was already widely considered to be a mental health crisis, and we’re proud to further our commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of our communities by taking additional steps through these and other initiatives.”

Boots, Walgreens offer omnichannel mental health services
In the U.K., Boots has partnered with Ieso Digital Health to offer its “How Are Things” mood and symptom checker to consumers 18 and older, through the Boots Health Hub – a digital health care and pharmacy services resource. Boots will also soon launch a new mental health service and offering through its Boots Online Doctor platform, which went live earlier this year. Boots plans to make the service available by the end of 2021.

In the U.S., Walgreens Find Care, an expanded digital health platform, offers mental health services through providers including BetterHelp and Sanvello. Many of the local and national healthcare partners listed on Find Care offer mental and behavioral healthcare services, as well.

[Read more: Exclusive Q&A: Walgreens digitally streamlines healthcare access]

Walgreens is also building on its existing partnership with Mental Health America (MHA) to help support MHA’s workplace mental health initiatives. This includes ongoing research into different factors that impact employees' social, emotional, and mental health in various workplace settings as part of its Mind the Workplace Report series, as well as support of MHA’s Framework for a Mentally Healthy Workplace.

Walgreens Boots Alliance has a presence in more than nine countries, employs more than 315,000 people and has more than 13,000 stores in the U.S., Europe and Latin America.

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