New Billings pharmacy on front lines of COVID-19 fight, with eyes on the future

Posted at 9:28 AM, Feb 15, 2021

BILLINGS — Plenty of businesses have closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s been rare to see the virus spur one to open like it did with Pharm406.

“A lot of hospitals, a lot of clinics, they actually throttled back. They weren’t stepping forward in the time of a pandemic, and so what I saw during all of this was, ‘Hey, let’s step forward,'" said Pharm406 owner Kyle Austin.

Austin had been looking for an opportunity to open his own pharmacy, zeroing in on Billings because of its growth and premium placed on the medical industry. The pandemic then provided the final push. Austin figured getting the best and fastest COVID tests was his stepping stone.

“Let’s get the tools that people need to get back to work, get back to school, catch their flight to get back to Africa," Austin said, talking about specific examples he saw early on. "There were some people that were isolated here because there were no tests available.”

Pharm406 is one of the only businesses in the state to offer 15-minute Rapid PCR, Antibody, and Antigen COVID tests. They’ve been invaluable for a number of customers.

“We got our first allotment in September, and we were only allotted 168 tests," Austin said. "When we were getting those, they were going out the door in two days. (The PCR tests) are the ones required for international travel. Individuals can come in, fill out a simple form, swab their nose, get results in 15 minutes, and off they’re going on their flight.”

Now, Pharm406 is shifting into vaccine mode.

“We’ve been on federal allocation list for quite a while. I was just recently allowed on the state list," said Austin. "I’m thinking here by March 1, we can start offering these to the general public.”

He’ll even come to you.

“I have a mobile clinic for an outreaching across Montana. We created Get a Brew, Not the Flu. We went on site, we offered the flu shot. You got a free flu shot and a free beer. It was a great combination, great turnout. I’ve had the breweries reach out and say, ‘Hey, will you come do COVID clinics at the brewery? You know, Get a brew, not COVID.”

Pharm406 offers much more than COVID products, of course. There’s an in-house family medicine practice, the west end location of the Billings Massage Company, plus a Cryotherapy chamber for fast injury recovery. But at some point, they’ll get back to a pharmacy’s bread and butter - filling prescriptions. That can be a tough sell for a local establishment competing with the more well-known national brands, but Austin has a big sales pitch.

“I’m presenting The ARC - 'Let’s build the ARC' campaign. The ARC is basically a YMCA on steroids, a giant Athletic Recreational Center that has activities for all ages.

"The concept behind it is, to motivate people to do business locally, the ARC will be built off profits from prescriptions.”

He’s already talking to developers and partners, and eventually plans to make Pharm406 into a non-profit, with the same goal for the ARC - a facility built for Billings, by Billings.

“Big corporations, they collect the profits, they ship it out of state," Austin said. "Locally-owned businesses keep that money local - it circulates in the community, it helps the community grow and benefit them. My goal as a Montana pharmacy is to get your prescriptions filled locally. Let’s keep that money local. Let’s benefit the community.”

One that he now calls home, literally putting his money where his mouth is.