‘The Wave of the Future’: Ideal Option, Safeway Partner to Open In-Store MAT Clinic

The nation’s seemingly never-ending substance use disorder (SUD) epidemic continues to kill record numbers of Americans every year. The crisis has gotten so bad that providers are turning to novel strategies to help.

In the Pacific Northwest, one tactical move in the battle against SUD comes not from a standalone treatment center, but from inside a neighborhood supermarket.

At a Safeway store on East Mill Plain Boulevard in Vancouver, Washington, shoppers dealing with SUD can not only stack up on groceries, but also seek treatment at a newly opened medication-assisted treatment (MAT) clinic in the same building.


The clinic, which is located in the store’s wellness center, is part of a partnership between Safeway — one of the nation’s largest grocers — and Ideal Option, a Kennewick, Washington-based addiction treatment provider that operates 67 MAT centers across ten states, including 27 in Washington state.

Ideal Option — which is financially backed by BlueCross BlueShield Venture Partners and Varsity Healthcare Partners — has two other locations in Vancouver, which is a suburb of Portland, Oregon. But it decided to open its third and latest clinic inside the Safeway store earlier this month to make MAT more accessible to residents of the community.

“We really liked the idea of co-locating with a pharmacy so that patients could essentially see their provider and pick up their prescription within an hour, in the same place, under the same roof,” Sharen Ross, Ideal Option’s vice president of marketing and community development, told Behavioral Health Business.


Ideal Option decided to co-locate the clinic at the store after noticing that many of its patients were having issues getting to pharmacies to pick up their prescriptions. Plus, patients sometimes had to endure long wait times to receive their medications once they got there.

By partnering with a grocery store to house a MAT clinic at its pharmacy, the hope is that Ideal Option can tackle both problems at once — and that patients can begin their medication regimen immediately, with injections from pharmacists done onsite.

The genesis of the clinic came at a time when Safeway — which operates 905 stores across 17 states and Washington, D.C., including 179 locations in Washington state — had a number of store wellness centers sitting vacant.

Safeway previously had a $350 million agreement with now-disgraced and defunct blood testing company Theranos to operate wellness centers near pharmacies inside its stores. But Safeway pulled out of the deal in 2015 amidst allegations of fraud levied against Theranos’ testing methods.

Ultimately, Ideal Option and Safeway — whose stores had long been filling out prescriptions for Ideal Option patients — decided they were a good match for what would essentially be a pilot program.

“Our pharmacies have taken care of Ideal Option patients for many years, but in a more traditional sense,” Jessica Covaci, the director of pharmacy compliance for Safeway parent company Albertsons (NYSE: ACI), told BHB. “This unique opportunity is a way for us to really expand our ability to help those in the community with a convenient care solution in a stigma-free environment.”

For the first clinic, Ideal Option chose the specific Safeway store in Vancouver because it’s located between Ideal Option’s two other Vancouver clinics, which have high patient traffic.

“Patients can get started at one of our standalone clinics, get set up and see their provider, and then they can do all of their follow up appointments at Safeway,” Ross said.

Both Ideal Option and Safeway say they need more time to judge the efficacy of the program, but if all goes as planned, they are looking at the possibility of replicating the model at other Safeway locations in different states.

Critical to the program expanding outside of Washington state is Medicaid, Ross said, noting that 75% of Ideal Option’s patients use the joint federal-state program to pay for services. Given the high percentage of Medicaid enrollees, Ross said it will be impossible for Ideal Option to open up grocery store clinics in non-Medicaid expansion states.

As part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), states were given the option to expand Medicaid to cover more people. Specifically, Medicaid expansion allows for the coverage of individuals up to age 65 who make incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level. ACA also guaranteed mental health and SUD treatment assistance to individuals receiving coverage.

South Dakota and Wyoming are currently the only non-Medicaid expansion states where Safeway operates.

“If the Medicaid payers aren’t reimbursing for the types of treatment that we do, at the levels where we can actually make ends meet, then we can’t go into that state,” Ross said.

Another issue Ideal Option is troubleshooting is the stigma associated with SUD — and the subsequent hesitancy patients could have in receiving MAT in a high-foot traffic area like a store. Additionally, for Safeway, questions persist about whether shoppers will avoid stores with treatment clinics. The latter consideration is similar to the “not-in-my-backyard” protests that sometimes greet new SUD treatment clinics nationwide.

Although such concerns could give some grocery and SUD treatment companies pause about co-locating clinics, Ideal Option believes that this kind of arrangement is the future of behavioral health care services, particularly as the SUD epidemic rages on.

“Hospitals have pharmacies inside of them for a reason,” Skyler Glatt, Ideal Option’s director of business development, told BHB. “That’s probably the closest that this model would come to, [which] is the connection between providers, pharmacies and hospitals. I would say that this is probably the wave of the future.”

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