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Voices from the Crisis: Finding a way to keep the dispensary lines moving

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Mark Lally of First State Compassion

WILMINGTON – In 2016, Mark Lally and his management team at First State Compassion (FSC) attempted to establish an express pickup line for its marijuana dispensary but because patients had questions about options for alleviating their conditions and the type of medications available, the initiative did not work out.

Fast forward to 2020 and the risks and fears swirling around COVID-19 exposure led FSC to revisit the idea and introduce an online-ordering and pickup service for its Wilmington and Lewes locations.

“When all the talk around social distancing and lockdown started coming out, we knew that we’d be considered ‘essential’ because we had patients suffering,” Lally says. “Our first concern was that we didn’t know who was coming into the building with COVID-19 or who might have been exposed to it. Our second concern was how to get the medicine to our 6,000 patients each month. And the [impact on our] business end was the final concern.

FSC collected information put out by the CDC and the state’s Office of Medical Marijuana and reviewed its own sick policies to address employee fears. The team quickly realized that not allowing patients to come in would reduce the risk of exposure to its staff and other patients. The “obvious” option was accelerating its plans to roll out an online service that would allow patients to order ahead of time and get a text when they could pick it up.

“The original plan was to start the online ordering store in May,” Lally said. “We have software that manages our inventory so patients can see what we have. But we needed to make sure that vendor and the one doing the online store could communicate with each other. And then we were going to beta test it. But that all changed.”

FSC worked with GillespieHall, its Hockessin-based strategic public relations and branding firm, to launch the online store over the March 28-29 weekend.

There are still some limitations. Patients can’t pay online in advance and it’s a cash-only transaction. An FSC employee, clad in protective gear, greets customers, verifies their identities, takes their payments, and hands over the medicine. If patients are in line and haven’t ordered online, if they have a question, or are a new patient, all they need to do is turn on their flashers and an FSC advisor will answer their questions and offer an abbreviated new patient orientation.

“it’s going very well and we’re receiving lots of compliments,” Lally said, adding that an early glitch – putting images of FSC’s product on the portal rather than a generic option – was quickly resolved. “When the pandemic is over and it’s safe to do so, we will allow patients to come back inside for that personalized service that we provide because we don’t want to lose that face-to-face contact with our patients. We are looking to keep some parts of the drive thru lane or other similar alternatives.”

–Peter Osborne

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