OHIO — Dr. Dan Jones, Dr. Jacob Sweet and Dr. Louis Liming have quite a bit in common.
All three are pharmacists that co-own Elite Pharmacy in Canfield.
“We offer free delivery to Trumbull, Mahoning, Columbiana and Portage counties. So, all four counties in this area," said Jones.
All grew up in small Ohio towns.
“I’m from Lordstown, Ohio," said Liming. "Population of about 3,200."
All graduated from Northeast Ohio Medical University.
“Greatest decision I’ve ever made," said Sweet.
Each of them are passionate about quality patient care and increasing access to prevent pharmacy deserts.
“If we weren’t here, it would be much more challenging for patients to get their medications," said Sweet.
According to Health Affairs, a leading journal of health policy and research, a pharmacy desert is defined as an area with little access to a nearby pharmacy. The journal said this tends to impact Black and Hispanic low-income neighborhoods disproportionately in both urban and rural communities across the country.
Health Affairs found that one in three neighborhoods throughout the 30 largest cities in the United States are pharmacy deserts.
The organization said it considers an area to be a pharmacy desert when the distance to the nearest pharmacy is a mile or more away or the average distance to the nearest pharmacy is at least half a mile and at least 100 households have no vehicle access.
“They may not have transportation to be able to drive you know, 20 or 30 miles to get to the nearest pharmacy." said Jones. "Patients may end up going without medications, a lot of which could be life-saving medications that, you know, that unfortunately could have catastrophic consequences for them without a pharmacy available."
Filling that void is why working in an independent pharmacy is so important to Jones and his colleagues.
“We're the only independent pharmacy in Canfield," said Jones. "You know, if you go south of here, or if you go west of here, on 224 going down Route 46, you know, there aren't any other pharmacies until you get to almost the next county over and, you know, almost the next county over going west as well. So, there is a large space, you know, south and west of us where there aren't any other pharmacies.”
According to the Ohio Pharmacists Association, there are about 500 independent pharmacies in the state now compared to the 1990s, when there were about 1,200. Jones said this troubles him.
“Oh, I lose sleep every single night," he said. "You know, it's definitely something that I'm concerned about.”
He said declining reimbursement rates from insurance companies are partially to blame.
“A lot of times, we'll get reimbursed by the insurance company lower than the cost of the medication itself, let alone the cost of the vial and the cost of the label and the cost for the staff to fill the prescription and the expertise that we all provide to that patient," said Jones. "So, you know, we're losing money on some of the prescriptions from, you know, from these insurance companies.”
Despite the challenges of the industry, these pharmacists said they are focused on serving their community.
The previous owner of the independent pharmacy sold it to them in February of this year.
Ever since, Elite Pharmacy has offered compounding, prescription dispensing, high-end supplements, over-the-counter medications and free delivery services to provide a rounded approach to a patient’s overall wellbeing.
“How many people you know can wake up every day and go to work with their best friends and, you know, just enjoy it all day and help people," said Liming.