The need for mental health care existed well before the pandemic began. But now more so than ever, there's a huge amount of demand for mental health services. A lot of people are having trouble coping with the pandemic or easing their way back into pre-pandemic life. Others may be grappling with survivor's guilt or dealing with mental health issues associated with lingering COVID-19 symptoms.
The problem, of course, is that accessing mental health services can be a challenge, even for people with health insurance. From pre-authorization requirements to referrals to wait lists and scheduling conflicts, those seeking out professional help are often put through a gauntlet of barriers that, many times, prevent them from getting the care they need.
Some retail pharmacies, however, are looking to change that. And that shift could not only impact those seeking mental health services but real estate investors as well.
Introducing walk-in mental health clinics
It's common practice to walk into a pharmacy to stock up on medical supplies or get a prescription. Now, CVS (NYSE: CVS), the U.S.'s largest retail pharmacy, is taking steps to become a mental health hub.
Since January, the company has added licensed clinical social workers trained in behavioral therapy to 13 locations across a few different metro areas -- Houston, Philadelphia, and Tampa. These counselors are available for in-person or telehealth consultations, and in the coming months, CVS plans to expand this offering to 34 locations within those pilot regions.
Not only are CVS's social workers available to customers during daytime hours, but they also have evening and weekend availability. It's these flexible hours that may help working folks in particular better access the care they need.
Of course, the idea of walking into a CVS pharmacy and getting access to healthcare isn't a new concept. The chain already offers MinuteClinics, which provide nonemergency health services on either a walk-in or appointment basis. But by adding mental health services into the mix, CVS is addressing a real need -- and making itself more relevant at a time when physical retailers (even essential ones) are being threatened by online competition.
Good news for real estate investors
CVS has long served as a shopping center anchor, but there's also been an underlying fear among real estate investors that as Amazon expands its online pharmacy service, it and other physical stores may eventually be forced to shutter. By introducing mental health services, CVS is adding to its staying power. And that's good news for anyone invested in shopping center real estate investment trusts (REITs).
Of course, CVS isn't the only pharmacy chain to enter the mental health arena. Walgreens, for example, has an online platform to connect customers to telehealth services. And Rite Aid is piloting a telehealth service of its own. But the fact that CVS is offering in-person mental health services could really work to its advantage, and if this new program takes off, it could solidify its spot as a retail chain that isn't going anywhere anytime soon.