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A pharmacy in this neighborhood? Are you crazy?

posted Feb 14, 2012, 9:42 PM by Pharmacy Over-the-Rhine   [ updated Oct 23, 2013, 2:19 PM ]

By Andrea Hopkins

CINCINNATI | Thu Mar 22, 2007 9:54am EDT

(Reuters) - Since January, Patricia Roberts has had access to something that many of the poorest people in the United States can only dream of: a pharmacy in her neighborhood.

The nation's first not-for-profit pharmacy is located in Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati's most notorious neighborhood -- one that is more blighted by boarded-up buildings than blessed with brand new businesses.

"I used to have to go all the way uptown to get my medicine," said Roberts, who lives off government disability payments due to seizures and asthma. "Sometimes I wouldn't have money to catch the bus. I just had to walk."

Neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine underscore the plight of millions of poor people in the United States.

A Christian health clinic opened in the mostly African American neighborhood in 1992, but that still left big gaps in patient care. With no pharmacy for miles, prescriptions often went unfilled, and patients skipped medications and got sicker.

More than 46 million people in the United States, including a disproportionate number of blacks and Hispanics, lack health insurance, according to government figures.

While the poorest 25 percent are eligible for the government's Medicaid program, most go without care or medicine unless they can find free clinics or hospitals funded by charities.

Last year, the health clinic's public relations director, JoAnn Riley, and Cincinnati-born pharmacist Chad Worz stepped in with an idea for a on-site pharmacy that, like the clinic, would find a way to serve people with or without health insurance.

Worz said his decision to bring a pharmacy to the poor and crime-ridden section of Cincinnati raised eyebrows.

"People said 'You're going to open a pharmacy in the center of the city's illicit drug trade? Are you crazy?'" he recalled.

Opening a pharmacy and selling narcotics in an area notorious for drug and gun crimes required special planning.

The pharmacy, located on the ground floor of the Crossroad Health Center, was built with bullet-proof glass and drywall separating the pharmacists and drugs from the customers.

A police substation takes up a corner of the waiting area, and pharmacist Susan Lattier wears a panic button on a lanyard around her neck in case of attempted robbery.

"Actually, we haven't had any problems," said Lattier. "The people appreciate you. They are so grateful that you are here."


The pharmacy is more inviting than it sounds. Plants and posters have been donated to decorate the waiting area, and Lattier tends to open the pharmacy door to interact with patients directly rather than from behind bulletproof glass.

The challenges of dealing with very poor clients are many. Lattier sees a lot of diabetes and asthma. Nearly all of the small children are anemic and need iron supplements. Patients struggle to pay even $1 and $2 dispensing fees.

"They come in and see what they'll have to pay, and say 'I don't have the money yet. I'll have to come back,'" Lattier said. "Then a few hours later they'll be back. You don't want to know how they came up with the money, but they do what they have to do."

The clinic gets funds from local government, the University of Cincinnati, church groups and even a local billionaire philanthropist. Many of the medications are paid for by Medicaid, a government program that provides health care for the very poor.

Nursing homes donate unused medications, and drug companies give discounts.

Any profit the pharmacy makes will be poured back into the business or used for education programs.

Linda Elam, principal policy analyst at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit group that funds research on health care, said it is a great model for communities -- inner-city neighborhoods and rural areas alike -- where a lack of a pharmacy has left a gap in health care.

"There is sort of a space between a physician writing and a patient filling a prescription, where you can lose a lot of people, whether they don't have money to fill it or don't have access to a pharmacy," Elam said.

"The poorest communities often have the largest illness burden, and they are the ones with the least means to deal with it."

Cincinnati pharmacy puts customers before profits

posted Feb 14, 2012, 9:00 PM by Pharmacy Over-the-Rhine   [ updated Oct 23, 2013, 2:21 PM ]

By Sharon Coolidge, USA TODAY
CINCINNATI — Most people looking to fill prescriptions head straight to the nearest chain pharmacy or one of the large discount stores. But that's not a luxury every neighborhood enjoys — especially not the poorest ones.

Chad Worz wants to change that in Cincinnati. Worz, in conjunction with a community health center, has opened Pharmacy Over-the-Rhine, what might be the only non-profit pharmacy in the country.

Douglas Hoey, senior vice president of the 24,000-member National Community Pharmacists Association, said he hasn't heard of another one.

"There are government … centers that are taxpayer-subsidized, but as far as a private entity starting a non-profit pharmacy, I don't know of any others," he said. His association represents pharmacies in urban areas and towns with fewer than 20,000 people.

Over-the-Rhine ranks as one of the city's poorest and most crime-ridden areas.

Fifty-seven percent of Over-the-Rhine's 7,000 residents — most of them African-Americans — live under the poverty level, according to the 2000 census.

There were 1,579 serious crimes, including nine homicides, there in 2006, Cincinnati Police Department statistics show.

Worz, and the public relations director for Crossroad Health Center, JoAnn Riley, hatched the idea for the pharmacy after seeing that doctors at the non-profit center often had to make sure patients had transportation to a pharmacy.

Worz knew Riley from her days as an employee at Skilled Care Pharmacy. Worz is director of pharmacy at Skilled Care.

"The mission of Crossroad Health Center is to serve the community," Worz said. "Giving residents access to a pharmacy was the best way to do that."

The pharmacy, which is legally classified as non-profit, is behind bulletproof glass inside the health center. It serves those with private insurance, those paying cash and those relying on federal assistance.

People can walk in from the street or visit after seeing one of the center's doctors or its dentist.

The pharmacy's opening Thursday was a time of celebration, said Walter Reinhaus, president of the Over-the-Rhine Community Council. "It's amazing when you … realize how long we've been without a retail pharmacy in the neighborhood," he said.

Worz, a pharmacist, filled in for the regular full-time pharmacist on opening day.

Kyra McClelland, 30, came in about 10 a.m. She recently had two teeth pulled in the health center's dental office and came in for a checkup.

"This way I can leave and go home," she said. "I don't have to go somewhere else."

McClelland picked up prescription-strength ibuprofen. Worz stepped into the lobby to hand her the medicine, cautioning her not to take other pain medication.

"This community needs this," Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory said. "It's taking a … novel concept right into the heart of the area that needs the service the most."

Worz said that "a lot of colleagues will laugh when we say not-for-profit." Most pharmacies don't make their profit off drugs; profits come from other items, he said. Notably missing from Worz's pharmacy are magazines, candy and greeting cards.

There is a small markup on drug prices, Worz said, but only enough to cover expenses such as electricity. He also said there will be a small amount of money made from Medicaid transactions, insurance companies and federally qualified prescription plans. Given the non-profit status, however, that money — Worz estimates it at $30,000 to $40,000 the first year — will have to go back into the health center or the community, he said.

Worz does not draw a salary, and there are grants for operating expenses — $150,000 from the city and $40,000 from the University of Cincinnati College of Pharmacy.

A drug wholesaler provided the pharmacy with stock and will collect in six months, Worz said. Also, the university grant paid for stock.

The bottom line, Worz says, is whatever money is leftover will be used "to help serve the indigent and provide health education."

That's an important mission, Hoey said.

"People in underserved areas have more health needs and more health concerns," he said.

Coolidge reports daily for The Cincinnati Enquirer.

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