No-frills pharmacy in Hill District puts focus on fulfilling mission

| Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2012

There's no mistaking the Center for Pharmacy Services in the Hill District for Rite Aid or Walgreens.

When Duquesne University opened the center a year ago, it was the first pharmacy in the Hill in more than a decade. It sells no Halloween candy, Christmas decorations or lottery tickets and very few over-the-counter medications. The store has no product aisles and therefore no browsing -- there's just a single walk-up window.

Yet it's turning out to be a welcome addition to the neighborhood and the school, customers and school officials say.

"It is, we hope, an asset to the Hill District. We already know the pharmacy is an asset to our students," said Doug Bricker, dean of the Mylan School of Pharmacy at Duquesne. It is the first off-campus, community pharmacy in the United States designed and operated by a school of pharmacy, he said.

It fills a void the poor neighborhood didn't always have, said Sylvester Randolph, 63, of Wilkinsburg, who grew up in the Hill District. Randolph was in the pharmacy last week picking up prescriptions for a friend who lives nearby.

"When I grew up here, you did not have to leave this neighborhood. There were at least three drugstores. Without this place here now, you'd have to go Downtown or to the South Side just to fill a prescription," he said.

Duquesne invested more than $600,000 in the store and expects it to break even in time, Bricker said. New pharmacies typically run in the red for three to five years, he said.

In its first year, the pharmacy filled about 95 prescriptions per day. It served more than 1,900 Hill District residents, putting the pharmacy on target to reach one-year goals.

"This is an older neighborhood with many senior high rises. We are committed to getting this neighborhood back to where it once was," Bricker said.

One boost happened last week, when a sign went up outside directing people to the pharmacy.

"It has helped already. We had two people come in that day who said they have been going to the South Side to get prescriptions filled," said Terri Kroh, the pharmacy's director and a licensed pharmacist.

The Hill, which also has struggled to attract a supermarket to the neighborhood, has one of Allegheny County's highest concentrations of senior citizens.

Located on Centre Avenue, the pharmacy resembles a doctor's office more than a commercial enterprise. In fact, it offers basic medical tests for glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol.

"We serve older people who may have as many as 15 or 20 prescriptions. Part of our job is to make sure they take them properly," Kroh said.

The pharmacy is turning out to be a vital training ground for pharmacy students, said Laura Studnicki, a recent graduate of the Duquesne pharmacy school who is working at the Hill pharmacy for one year.

"It's a valuable, hands-on experience. It really applies what you learn in the classroom," she said.

Studnicki, like other students, helps seniors manage dosages and take advantage of drug assistance programs such as the state's PACE program and Medicare Part D, the federal prescription drug coverage for seniors. They also administer screening tests.

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