Health Department officials said Thursday they reached an agreement with the owners of El Amal to open a single store in the San Juan metropolitan area, to fulfill prescriptions that were left pending when the drugstore chain closed its doors late last week.
The store on Piñero Avenue — which also serves as the chain’s corporate headquarters — will remain open for 30 days.
Health Secretary Lorenzo González said El Amal will also present today its formal mitigation plan to the agency’s Drugstores and Medications division.
“The plangoes into effect Friday. The official document will includethepresentationofa public announcement[Friday]inone of theisland’s principal newspapers, wheremanagementwill providedetails about thelocationand hoursofthepharmacyscheduled to openin the metropolitan areaas wellastelephone numbersand an e-mail address thatpatientscanaccess,” González said.
Despite reaching the agreement to open the stores, El Amal still faces hefty fines for violating Health Department rules related to prescription management and patient care.
In a televised interview, El Amal President Mohammed Yassin said the company “is aware of the infractions and we will address them at the appropriate time. Right now, we’re focusing on addressing patient care.”
El Amal, in operation on the island since 1973, abruptly closed its doors last Friday, leaving 350 employees out on the street without pay, patients in the dark about their prescriptions, and the general public stunned about the decision.
However, the move is not surprising, as the company owned by the Yassin family has been in bankruptcy since 2009, when it filed for Chapter 11 for the first time. That proceeding is still open.
The company’s financial troubles reportedly are related to over-extended credit lines, mounting unpaid prescriptions by insurance providers — estimated at between $1.5 million and $3 million — and heated competition by the likes of Walgreens and new arrival CVS Pharmacy.
Industry sources close to the proceedings said El Amal will likely end up selling its inventory to businesses owned by relatives, which include drugstores and gasoline stations. It is not clear, however, what will happen with the real estate housing the 22 El Amal stores remaining in the chain. It is said many of those stores are owned by Berwind Realty, property of El Amal founder Saleh Yassin.
Business reporter with 27 years of experience writing for weekly and daily newspapers, as well as trade publications in Puerto Rico. My list of former employers includes Caribbean Business, The San Juan Star, and the Puerto Rico Daily Sun, among others. My areas of expertise include telecommunications, technology, retail, agriculture, tourism, banking and most other segments of Puerto Rico’s economy.