ELVIA AND Jesus Saenz
Owners of Saenz Pharmacies
Keeping up with the changing world of pharmacies is quite the job: keeping up with new medicines, new routines, and new government requirements. Jesus Saenz, registered pharmacist for Saenz Pharmacy, loves his work despite the thousands of hours it takes to stay atop the pharmaceutical world.
“It’s a profession that’s very rewarding because we see our patients more than they see their doctors,” Saenz said. “They call us for any little thing, and we’ll make time for them. The fact is pharmacists are in the top of the most trusted professions.”
However, Saenz Pharmacy almost never happened.
“I was going to be a math teacher,” he said. “When I went to UT with my brother, who was a chemistry major and then got into pharmacy school. He suggested I try it out, so I joined the pre-pharmacy fraternity and before I knew it, I was graduating as a pharmacist.”
Saenz had found his fit. He began working for K-mart where he found another love of his life, his boss. Another pharmacist, Elvia, would end up becoming his wife.
Saenz opened his first franchise in Edinburg called The Medicine Shoppe.
“Another brother had become a family practice physician and wanted to open a practice in the Peñitas/La Joya area,” Saenz said. “He wanted me to come join him. I sold my franchise to another pharmacy and opened our first Saenz Pharmacy in my brother’s lobby over 30 years ago.”
Outgrowing that within six months, Saenz then built the company’s first standalone site. Elvia was given the opportunity to join the company and it quickly became a family business. Not sure she wanted to run the Peñitas/La Joya branch on her own since her husband was running another, the pair took off to St. Louis, Missouri, returning to the Valley with their first robot, which filled prescriptions with the top 200 drugs.
“We had that robot for over 20 years before we had to replace it with a more modern one,” he said. “This new one puts the pills in little bags for the patient, in order of their time to take them.”
When they started in business, the process was a simple: count and pour, and fee for service with the state paying a flat fee. But things do not stay simple.
“It’s all clinical,” he said. “Now there are PBM (Pharmacy Benefit Management) people who the state contracts with to interact with pharmacies, like an intermediary between the state and Medicaid.”
The term “clinical” adds other designations for pharmacists. First, they must counsel the patient. It is also necessary now for pharmacists to call their patients to remind them to get their prescriptions filled on a timely basis. This is an attempt to keep the flow of patients to hospitals to a minimum.
Jesus and Elvia make it a point to go yearly to the pharmacy convention to bring tips and ideas down to the Valley.
“One year they were talking about synchronization and my wife decided to put it in one location to try it out,” Saenz said. “Synchronization gets a patient’s meds set to come due all on the same date, all in sync.”
Starting with the goal over 10 years ago of having at least 150 patients in sync, Elvia now has several hundred patients in their Peñitas/La Joya branch with synchronized meds, with other locations synchronized as well.
Clinical Adherence is the most important action they receive payment for. Simply put, pharmacies get paid by having their patients stay on their medicines. Not only do they have to call to remind them to get their meds, but they also must do their best to get the patients to take them.
With everything to keep track of these days, Saenz and his wife have an objective.
“I concentrate more on running a service-oriented business,” he said. “We tell our pharmacists it’s not just doing prescriptions. It is taking care of your patients. Elvia meets with our pharmacists to keep them up-to-date with any new plans we learn to improve business to be prepared for the future.”
Continuing to add services to their six locations – four in McAllen, one in Mission, and one in Peñitas/La Joya – they do compounding at the McAllen location on Nolana, mostly hormone replacement therapy. Gearing up to be able to distribute the COVID vaccine, Saenz equipped his stores with masks, gloves, gowns, and goggles, and set up a strict regimen for using sanitizer.
Just as doctors serve their residents, so do pharmacists. Saenz Pharmacies act as Preceptors.
“Preceptors means we have interns from the pharmacy schools in Kingston, Houston, and the University of Texas. Most all my pharmacists are preceptors and can help interns decide if they want to go into independent, hospital, or nuclear pharmacy.”
Long-term McAllen Chamber members, Saenz praises the Chamber for their work and help over the years and at all their grand openings.
“Now, whenever we travel, we call the local chambers to see where to go to eat and visit. I’ve learned that from the Chamber here,” Saenz concluded. “The McAllen Chamber works very closely with family-owned businesses, which makes a big difference to us. We’re grateful they are there for us.”