ST. LOUIS — Marcus Howard learned of inequities that exist in the health care industry while he was in school: St. Louis’ Black community is – and has historically been – underserved and disproportionately affected by disease, he said.
And it’s similar for other marginalized groups, such as the LGBTQ community and HIV patients, he continued.
Noticing a lack of pharmacies in St. Louis that sought to serve these communities, Howard made it his goal to change that.
His goal became a reality when he opened GreaterHealth Pharmacy and Wellness at 5503 Delmar Blvd. on Nov. 30. The pharmacy’s goal is to offer “radically inclusive, culturally responsive" health care, he said.
Howard, who’s 30 and whose experience includes an undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, years as a teacher with Teach For America and a doctorate in human development from North Carolina State University, didn’t have any previous pharmacy experience.
But he had friends who were pharmacists, including one who opened a Black-owned pharmacy in Charlotte, North Carolina, who helped him to see the effect a Black-owned pharmacy can have on a marginalized community, he said.
"Patients want to come to an environment where they feel seen and represented," Howard said.
One of the ways patients are represented at GreaterHealth is that the pharmacy has Black and culturally diverse staff members who go through training on issues pertinent to under-represented groups in health care, such as the LGBTQ community, with an emphasis on care for transgender and gender non-conforming patients, he said.
Additionally, the pharmacy sells products such as Ourtone Band-Aids, which are adhesive bandages that come in shades for Black and Brown skin tones, helping those communities to feel seen, he said. The product is the pharmacy's best selling product, he added.
“Research suggests that culturally responsive pharmacies are important staples in communities of color, because they bridge trust in health care,” Howard said.
Building trust in health care ultimately leads to an increase in preventative care, which, in the long run, causes the community to become healthier and reduces health care costs, he added.
Howard initially turned to GoFundMe to raise money for the pharmacy, which caught the attention of Build-A-Bear Workshop founder Maxine Clark.
Clark was working on her latest project at the time, Delmar DivINe. Located in the former St. Luke’s Hospital on Delmar Boulevard, Delmar DivINe is a nonprofit organization that aims to promote health, education and human service organizations in the St. Louis region.
After working with Clark to secure a space for the pharmacy within the project, Howard received about $1 million in funding from the Missouri Foundation for Health to aid in the buildout.
Looking ahead, Howard said he has plans to expand his concept throughout the state. He’s currently in the process of raising an addition $3 million to $4 million, and he hopes to have three locations open by 2025 and a total of six by 2027.
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