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RWJF Clinical Scholar Team to Address Pharmacy Closures on Chicago’s West and South Side.

Dr. Dima Qato

Dr. Dima Qato

Dima Mazen Qato, PharmD, MPH, PhD, Assistant Professor at the UIC College of Pharmacy, has been selected for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Clinical Scholars Program (], along with Shannon N. Zenk, PhD, MPH, RN, Professor from the UIC College of Nursing. 

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is the nation’s largest philanthropy dedicated solely to health. Founded in 1972, the foundation has supported research and programs targeting some of America’s most pressing health issues—from substance abuse to improving access to quality health care. 

With support from the RWJF and leadership training that is provided to selected scholars, Dr. Qato and her team will attempt to reduce the burden of pharmacy closures and access to essential medicines for residents living in pharmacy desert communities on Chicago’s West and South Sides at both the patient and population levels.  

 “Addressing the problem of pharmacy closures in these communities is important considering the scope of pharmacy services, particularly for retail chains, is expanding beyond dispensing medicine to providing preventative care, such as immunizations and the emergency treatment of opioid overdoses.”

In partnership with local pharmacies, community health centers, and newly identified community health liaisons, Dr. Qato’s team will establish a "pharmacy referral service” where prescriptions are filled and then delivered to patients in need. If preferred, patients can also request transportation services to and from a local pharmacy.

In order to strengthen their capacity to influence policy and population health, Dr. Qato and her team will assemble a cross-sectorial Access to Medicines Advisory/Advocacy Committee (AMAAC) that includes stakeholders from both the public and private sectors, including pharmacy retailers. In collaboration with local public health and policy officials and community residents, the AMAAC will advocate for legislative changes that prevent closures from occurring in at-risk communities. A series of town hall meetings is also planned.

“By engaging with the community and key stakeholders, we will gain a better understanding of whether and how specific policies and regulations of the City of Chicago, such as Tax Increment Financing (or TIF), influence decisions on the opening and closing of pharmacies across Chicago’s segregated communities. Our goal is to promote greater transparency and accountability of the impact of such policies on barriers in accessing and adhering to prescription medications at the local level”.

“Ultimately we hope to increase awareness of the critical, yet often ignored, role of pharmacies in ensuring healthier and more equitable communities in the United States.”

Dr. Shannon Zenk, Professor from the Department Health Systems Science is a co-investigator for this award. Melvin Thompson, Executive Director of The Endeleo Institute, a faith-based community organization on Chicago’s South Side, is also a team member.