Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cathedral Care Pharmacy vs. CVS

by Michael Ross

It was the winter of 2007 and the snow was coming down hard and fast across the city. Schools were letting out early and businesses across town were preparing to do the same when the phone rang at Cathedral Care Pharmacy in Woodley Park. A customer was on the line and there was a note of panic in her voice. She needed a refill for an important prescription, but was snowbound in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Not to worry, the pharmacist assured her: “We’ll get it to you.”

Claudio Sayan, one of Cathedral Care’s long-time employees, grabbed the prescription and set out in the pharmacy’s delivery vehicle. He did not go far, however, before realizing that the car was not going to make it into Maryland on the still unplowed streets. So parking the car and striking out for the Metro, Claudio caught a train to Bethesda and then trudged several blocks through high winds and whiteout conditions to get to the woman’s door.

Recalling the incident, Cathedral Care owner Mike Madden says simply: “My people do extraordinary things.” The way he says it is not a boast; it’s just how this small, family-owned pharmacy treats its customers and has always treated them ever since it opened its doors on Connecticut Avenue nearly 90 years ago. How much longer Mike’s people can continue to do these extraordinary things for their customers is now very much in doubt, however.

Earlier this month, the CVS Caremark Corporation, citing an alleged auditing irregularity, terminated the contract that allowed Cathedral Care to fill prescriptions under the Caremark drug plan. Since Caremark manages drug plans for many major employers, including the Federal government, the loss of this business has dealt a devastating blow to Cathedral Care.

Madden is an unassuming and modest man, but he’s also a determined one and right now his determination is focused on doing everything he can to stay in business. In this he has a growing list of allies, from DC Councilwoman Mary Cheh and ANC Commissioners Anne-Marie Baristow and Lee Brian Reba to the officers and members of the Woodley Park Community Association and the Cleveland Park Citizens Association. But the bottom line is that Madden doesn’t have the financial resources for a protracted legal battle against a corporate giant like CVS Caremark, whose reputation for muscling small, family owned pharmacies out of business has been denounced by consumer groups and increasingly is becoming the focus of attention by Federal regulators. Unless CVS Caremark can be persuaded by public opinion to reverse its decision, or unless Madden can somehow replace the business he stands to lose as a result of it, Cathedral Care’s days could be numbered.

Now, truth-in-advertising-time: While I have no financial or familial interest in this dispute, I have been a resident of Woodley Park for two decades, during which I have patronized both Cathedral Care and CVS (and before CVS gobbled it up, People’s Drugstore.) I have nothing against CVS per se. But I am engaged in this fight because I don’t think what CVS is doing is ethically right. I am engaged because it strikes to the heart of our values as a community. No, I’m not old or infirm enough to require free delivery of my prescriptions, but others in our community are, and I care about that.

All of which is to say that, if you share these concerns, then I invite you to sign the petition I’ve created at this link or using the link below. When we’ve gotten at least 1,000 signatures, we’ll be sending it to the corporate suits at CVS to let them know that we object to what they are doing and to remind them that the community’s loss of Cathedral Care pharmacy will not necessarily be their gain (after all, there’s always Walgreens).

The petition is also being circulated door to door as my spare time (and the heat) permits. If you want to help in this regard, please do contact me at either: mross1949 @ or mross1949 @ Since they express what’s at stake here far more eloquently than I have, permit me to close by citing excerpts from just a few of the many comments I’ve received from Cathedral Care customers since launching this campaign.

“I can’t count the number of times Mike Madden has straightened out a stubborn insurance company on my behalf, rushed an order, or showed more professionalism when dealing with sensitive information,” writes DC resident Carl Johnston. “I can actually feel my blood pressure go down when I call the pharmacy and he’s on the other end of the line.”

Cathedral Pharmacy “has been an absolute life saver for me,” adds Woodley Park’s Trish Mitchell. “I have a chronic condition and am forever picking up meds [and] Mike has even come in on a Sunday to take care of a prescription for me.”

“When the pharmacist sees me walking in the door, he already starts filling my prescription,” says another Woodley resident, Adrienne Danforth. “He has watched my children grow up, knows every one of their names and what they’re doing.”

And finally this, from Lise Gladstone: “I’ve been a customer of Cathedral Care for over 25 years. I first started using them when my kids were little because they were able to deliver our prescriptions to our door by the time we returned from the pediatrician. After 9-11, I saw one of their pharmacists on the street pause to read the headlines in a news box and I noticed a rosary in his hand. I have seen Mike at community events for parents and discovered that his youngest son is the same age as mine. These kinds of connections are so rare in retail. They are a part of what binds our community together and makes it such a special place to live.”

Thanks, Lise. That about says it all.

Sign the petition at:


Guest columnist Michael Ross, a recovering journalist and conservationist, is a long-time resident of Woodley Park.


  1. CVS/Caremark probably want to throw out any good competition like Cathedral Care Pharmacy, because their own prescription service is so pathetic.

  2. This is fantastic news! Sharon has tremdous talent - and I am so glad she will share that with us!