'Pharmacy deserts' a growing health concern in Chicago, experts, residents say

Public health experts say that growing parts of more than a dozen poor neighborhoods in Chicago, primarily on the city's South and West sides, are becoming "pharmacy deserts," having limited access to a pharmacy.

Public health experts say that growing parts of more than a dozen poor neighborhoods in Chicago, primarily on the city's South and West sides, are becoming "pharmacy deserts," having limited access to a pharmacy. Research indicates that many of these neighborhoods in Chicago have a mix of characteristics, including having residents who tend to be low income, immigrants, and/or African American or Latino. Experts note that considering the expanding scope of services many pharmacies provide, they are increasingly important parts of the national health care conversation. "A lot of public attention focuses on insurance, but that's not enough," said Dima Qato, an assistant professor in the department of pharmacy systems, outcomes and policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who has studied pharmacy access for years. "Even if medications are affordable, if the pharmacy isn't accessible, they're not accessible." Qato is involved in a 3-year program to examine pharmacy access in Chicago neighborhoods and develop solutions to counter pharmacy deserts in the city. Preliminary data through 2015 indicate that some residents of five community areas—Chatham, Pullman, South Deering, and West Pullman on the South, Far South and Southeast sides and Chicago Lawn on the Southwest Side—lived at least 1 mile from the closest pharmacy. Qato has not yet released more current data; however, she noted the issue is getting worse due to recent pharmacy closures in areas where there are transportation barriers. In an emailed statement, a Walgreens spokesman said that nearly 90% of Chicago residents live within a mile of any of its approximately 120 Chicago locations. He said Walgreens is the largest provider of pharmacy services in Chicago and has a 116-year history of serving the city.