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Indiana pharmacy board asks for investigation

– Indiana’s Professional Licensing Agency on Monday asked the inspector general and the State Ethics Commission to review the Board of Pharmacy’s approval of a new layout featuring workstations for pharmacists at Walgreens stores in Indiana.

The request came after two consumer groups asked ethics officials to investigate the actions of then-board President William Cover, who is also a corporate manager for the drugstore chain.

Common Cause Indiana and the labor group Change to Win questioned the board’s approval of the “Well Experience” store layout, which moves pharmacists from behind a counter to a workstation closer to customers. Common Cause policy director Julia Vaughn said the groups have obtained emails under a public records request that show Walgreens executives asked Cover about the status of their request.

Cover abstained from the vote, but Vaughn argues that Cover should have gone to the ethics commission for clearance beforehand. The groups said they believe Cover’s actions violated the Indiana ethics code.

“Under the circumstances, he should have kept himself at arm’s length,” Vaughn said. “Looking at the emails, I think more separation was needed, and that’s why we think an investigation is necessary.”

Licensing agency spokeswoman Sue Swayze said records indicate Cover stayed out of the board’s discussions, but talked with a state employee who coordinated visits to Walgreens stores in Illinois.

Swayze said the board has asked Inspector General David Thomas to “take a second look” and not just limit his review to Cover’s involvement.

“We asked the inspector general to review the entire process,” Swayze said.

The groups said they believe Cover’s actions violated the Indiana ethics code.

The Ethics Commission is not permitted to comment on requests for investigations, Executive Director Cyndi Carrasco said.

Cover, who was first appointed to the pharmacy board by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels in 2005, remains a member of the board but is no longer its president.

Walgreen spokesman Michael Polzin told The Indianapolis Star the company expects all of its employees to follow the law and that the new store layout is safe and effective.

However, the consumer groups said the new setup risks patient privacy because the pharmacists often leave their desks in an area where customers can see computer screens or labeled medicine bottles.

Polzin defended the switch.

“We presented this model to more than 30 boards of pharmacy around the country,” he said. “We’re very proud of the work we have done.”