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River Valley expands RX locations, broadens patient access

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

COAL HILL – Rita Grigsby loves her new pharmacy. She lives in the tiny community of Hunt in western Johnson County. For years, she had to make the drive down Interstate 40 to obtain her medication.

Now, thanks to River Valley Primary Care Services, her drive is much easier. She just takes the pleasant route down Arkansas 164 to River Valley’s pharmacy. It’s in Coal Hill, a town of about 800 in a rural area of western Arkansas previously known for its mining industry.

“I used to have to go to Clarksville,” said Grigsby as she waited for her prescription. “I liked it. But this is better.”

Rita Grigsby

River Valley has expanded its pharmacy offerings in the last year or so. The Community Health Center (CHC) in western Arkansas opened a pharmacy in its main clinic office in Ratcliff, followed by pharmacies in Coal Hill and Mulberry.

Jerry White, chief executive officer at River Valley, said he and his team wanted to do something more to provide additional access for his patients to get their prescription drugs.

Pharmacies in the area are few and spread out. Some of those pharmacies don’t offer discounted prescription drugs for uninsured and underinsured Arkansans. White said part of River Valley’s mission as a CHC is to fill that need.

River Valley’s Coal Hill facility used to be a restaurant. The drive-in window is now used for pharmaceuticals instead of burgers. A medical clinic takes up the other side of the building.

“You can see the doctor over there and then come here and we have the medicine,” said pharmacist Kristen Johnson. “It’s a lot easier when they are just down the hall. If we have questions, we can just go over there and ask them. It’s a whole lot better than having to call a doctor’s office and be put on hold.”

Johnson used to work at a big box retailer pharmacy. “This is a lot better, a slower pace,” said Johnson. “You get to talk to people more. Most people who come here, live here. Most of the time, when people come in here, I can go ahead and get their prescription because I know who it is and what they need.”

Kristen Johnson (left) and Shawny McClure

Shawny McClure, a pharmacy tech, said, “People around here are just excited they can have a place to go. A few people walk here.”

A customer who said he was a hospice nurse asked if a particular medicine was in stock. McClure said no but she could order it.

“You wouldn’t happen to have a pulse oximeter (a device that measures oxygen levels), would you?” the nurse asked.

“We do,” McClure answered.

“Sweet!” the nurse said.

About a half-hour west down U.S. 64 is the River Valley pharmacy in Mulberry. The River Valley medical clinic is across the street. The pharmacy was operated locally for more than 40 years and is well-established in town. The former owner retired and sold the business to River Valley last year.

“We inherited all their business,” said pharmacist Eddie Lyons. “We are actually up 20-25 percent in business from the previous year. Our goal was not to lose anybody and the fact that we gained customers is nice. Some of the people are our patients from across the street. Others may have been curious about us. It was going to close if we didn’t buy it. And there is a big need for a pharmacy here.”

Eddie Lyons

Lyons said he didn’t know much about CHCs when he was hired last year, but he loves working for one. He cites the benefits (which independent pharmacies often lack) and the regular work hours (which big chain pharmacies often don’t offer).

“River Valley is a great employer and has created some of the best pharmacy positions in the state,” Lyons said. “At some big chains you have to fill 500 prescriptions a day with no bathroom breaks.”

One customer who stopped by recently was Jocelyn Baxter, wife of the mayor and sister of the former owner. She was appreciative that her brother’s former business was thriving with the help of River Valley.

“We take personal pride and satisfaction that you are helping people,” she told Lyons. “It’s so nice. We will never let you go willingly. We’ll tie you up!”

Jocelyn Baxter

The pharmacy in Ratcliff is located about 20 minutes back east down U.S. 64 to Ozark and about another 20 minutes south across the Arkansas River down Arkansas 23. Cattle ranches are everywhere.

Johnny Larsen, pharmacy director for River Valley in Ratcliff, said the benefits to the community are clear. Some people even drive from Fort Smith, about 50 minutes away, because they can’t obtain affordable prescriptions there.

“After about six months, we saw the impact we had in getting people the medication they need, making it affordable for underserved patients,” Larsen said. “Word gets out.”

Johnny Larsen (left) and Ashley Huber


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