by Sarah Cason, Walgreens Stories
18 March 2021
Discover the cross-country coordination that goes into helping people in underserved communities secure appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Angelica Davis, pharmacy technician at Walgreens’ Centralized Services location in Muscle Shoals, Ala., assists patients in underserved communities across the country in booking appointments for COVID-19 vaccines.

Sometimes, administering COVID-19 vaccines in Chicago takes an idea out of Deerfield, Ill., direction out of Orlando, Fla., and a phone call out of Muscle Shoals, Ala.

Over the course of three days in February, members of Walgreens’ Centralized Services team launched a tele-campaign that resulted in 60 vaccine appointments booked on behalf of a pharmacy on the South Side of Chicago. Due to the success of this pilot, these efforts have been replicated and expanded to more than 1,000 stores in 24 states. One month later, 50,000 proactive calls are made each weekend, with plans to continue for as long as necessary, as part of Walgreens’ Vaccine Equity Initiative to drive equitable access to vaccines.

How did it come to pass? Walgreens Stories spoke with the team members involved in launching the pilot to find out.
 
What initially sparked the idea for this pilot program?

Scott Malone, senior director of customer engagement experience, Deerfield, Ill.: In mid-February, leaders within the pharmacy operations team met to brainstorm ways to reach out to communities in medically underserved areas. Our goal was to increase our reach to people who are most in need of the vaccine. We considered trying a manual walk-in process at a local store or having pharmacists reach out to talk to the patients they deal with on a day-to-day basis. We came up with an idea to use our existing technology in our Centralized Services locations to pull a list of patients at a particular store in Chicago, and use that information to reach out to those patients to understand if they were interested in making an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine at their local Walgreens.

Shannon Wedekind, senior director of site operations and workforce management, Centralized Services, Orlando, Fla.: It evolved pretty quickly. We asked ourselves, “Can we do this? What capabilities do we have?” Even if it wasn’t immediately scalable, what was important was the outcome. Our goal was to identify patients who had been at that store before and who were eligible based on state and local jurisdiction guidelines. Once we had the list, then we needed to figure out how to get in contact with them.

Malone: Right away, we had an automated method of figuring out who was eligible. And then we needed to find an automated solution to call them and let them know there are vaccine appointments available in their area. If they were interested in scheduling an appointment, we connected them with a centralized service agent to book it.
 
How did the Centralized Services team use their technology to contact patients?

Lonnie Socha, senior manager, business relationships, Centralized Services, Muscle Shoals, Ala.: Once we knew the store we’d be working with, our team had to figure out how to support through conversations. We had to reach out, share the appointment schedule and set up their appointment. It was Tuesday, and the vaccine clinic was scheduled at the store that weekend. That’s when I pulled in Terri, who’s our subject matter expert on outreach.

Terri Peoples, business relations manager, outreach programs, Muscle Shoals: I was brought in late Tuesday afternoon, and we had launched the campaign the next day by noon. We worked with our internal dialer team to set up an outbound campaign, where an automated call would contact the patient, offer the chance to make an appointment, and say, “Press 1 to speak to an agent.” My team was responsible for writing the scripts for the agents and listing out the FAQs. The dialer team handled the technology, setting up the call list and automation. Pauline's team and my team trained the call agents.

Pauline Stancil, site director, Centralized Services, Muscle Shoals: In just a couple of hours, we were training the team members and practicing the scripts for when patients would return the automated call. The team was so excited to be able to schedule the appointments, and the patients were very appreciative of us reaching out to them. It was a really good feeling for us to be able to help them.

Malone: Once booked, information about the appointments was sent to the store where the clinic would take place. It was manual, but it was a test to understand if people would be interested in hearing from Walgreens and learning that we had appointments available in their community. We wanted to bring the appointments to them to take away the friction of trying to search themselves.

What was the response from the community, and what are the next steps?

Melanie Owens, pharmacy manager, Chicago: A lot of the people who are scheduling appointments through the online scheduler don’t live in the community. We don’t know until after they make the appointment. So the Centralized Services team gave us the names of our repeat patients, and we took it from there. At the clinic, every 15 minutes, we were giving someone a vaccine.

Malone: The feedback from this particular clinic was positive, from the team members who made the calls to the customers to the pharmacy staff. The store staff was really happy that we were serving the people of their community. They got to interact with patients who were grateful and excited. They kept saying, “We love this. We want to do this all the time. It feels like we’re really helping people.”

Wedekind: It was a feel-good moment that took a lot of hands. But it’s not just a Centralized Services story. It’s a Walgreens story.

Malone: Because of that positive feedback, we've expanded on what we originally launched and created a fully automated outbound campaign to target medically underserved areas across the country. We're continuing to refine the operations each week. The campaign itself is still managed by Centralized Services, but we’ve automated the process even more to be quicker and simpler for our agents and store staff. Now we can roll this out in a lot more states. Doing this type of work shows us just how much of an impact we can personally make.