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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.