For the past week, Dana Karlson's phone has been ringing off the hook.

Earlier this month, the Cut Knife Pharmacy was told it had lost its contract with the local long-term care home as of the end of October. Karlson, the pharmacy's owner, estimates the home makes up roughly 20 per cent of his business.

"It's not a super profitable store," he said. "It's already sort of barely hanging on that they've got one. And that's sort of the issue."

People in the town west of North Battleford are worried that the loss of business may mean the pharmacy will shut down. And without the pharmacy, a ripple effect could tear through the town.

"It's just like all the small towns over the years," said longtime resident Larry Hampson.

"They pull the elevator and then they pull the post office and then the high school closes — pretty soon you've got a ghost town."

As a result, people in the town are rallying behind the pharmacy. They've started a campaign and are holding a town meeting, trying to convince the Prairie North Health Region to change its mind.

"You can't tell me that it's more cost effective to run it out of Battleford and deliver medicines to the care home," said Hampson, whose 102-year-old mother-in-law lives in the home.

Locals rallying

Grocery store owner Mike Wismer is hoping the town will be able to change the health region's decision.

"It's pretty frustrating for a local facility to bypass a local business that supplies what they need," he said.

"It's a domino effect. Once a couple of businesses start leaving, what they sell and offer is no longer offered in the community, and it just gives everyone more of a reason to head into a larger centre."

'People here are furious. I really think it's turning into something else than just me and my store.'
- Pharmacy owner Dana Karlson

Wismer said the issue came up five years ago, when the health region looked at changing the contract during the last round of negotiations. He said the town was victorious then, and is hoping to pull off the same result this time as well.

"I'm hoping that they'll come to their senses and not outsource something that can be purchased right in town," he said.

"That's the hope of every email I sent and the petitions I've signed."

Health region moving forward with transition

However, the Prairie North Health Region is confident it made the right decision. It said it issued a request for proposals with a number of carefully-drafted criteria containing everything from how much the pharmacist charges to whether pharmacy staff would be available for in-person visits to the care home.

"We feel confident that the process we went through was open, fair and transparent for all of the interested vendors," said Derek Miller, vice-president Finance and Operations of Prairie North Health Region.

"We're moving forward with making the transition and the necessary arrangements to provide continuity and so on."

Meanwhile, pharmacy owner Dana Karlson has also been told that another one of his small-town pharmacies in Turtleford has lost contracts for long-term care homes in Turtleford and nearby Edam to larger pharmacies in bigger centres.

"People here are furious," he said. "I really think it's turning into something else than just me and my store."

The community meeting will be held in Cut Knife on Aug. 21 at 7 p.m. CST.