89.9 FM Live From The University Of New Mexico
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

City councilor says the pharmacy desert in her district hurts the most vulnerable

Albuquerque City Councilor Nichole Rogers spoke with New Mexico in Focus on June 14 about the International District being a pharmacy desert.
New Mexico in Focus
New Mexico PBS
Albuquerque City Councilor Nichole Rogers spoke with New Mexico in Focus on June 14 about the International District being a pharmacy desert.

In 2023, Walmart and Walgreens closed locations in Albuquerque’s International District. That followed the earlier departure of CVS. Now many residents live without a pharmacy in walking distance. The Albuquerque Health Equity council labeled District 6 a 'pharmacy desert.'

City Councilor Nichole Rogers represents that district and recently spoke with New Mexico in Focus Producer Lou DiVizio about the lack of pharmaceutical services available and possible solutions. Rogers says the most vulnerable are seniors and those who rely on public transit.

NICHOLE ROGERS: People either are having to switch to delivery -- I think right now that is the option, especially for our senior, homebound folks and transit-dependent folks -- as they're trying to navigate how to switch to a company that will deliver your medication directly to you. Same with food delivery services. But again, that's an extra cost and burden for folks who already are in poverty.

NEW MEXICO IN FOCUS: Now, you've proposed signing up residents for a program called Express Scripts, similar to DoorDash, which you brought up, but for pharmacies and medication. How exactly would a large-scale rollout of a program like that work? And would it be more difficult for anybody in particular?

ROGERS: It is. It is difficult because I think what I learned from my time in health care is that's dependent on if your specific provider for your healthcare allows you to use Express Scripts. As I'm researching, we would need some really statewide legislation or something to mandate that our MCOs [medical care organizations] allow folks to use delivery services like Express Scripts. Or how do we mandate that they can't charge the delivery for that? But then the pushback is going to be, well, how do you expect us to be able to do that and eat that cost? Right? So there's a balance to that as well.

So this one's a tough conversation, but what I do know from research is where local spending is higher for local governments, life expectancy is higher, and that's what we're talking about here. We're talking about people's life expectancy. So when we talk about food deserts, we have to talk about pharmacy deserts and the supply chain for both of those items. How do we even get our medicines to Albuquerque? How does that work? What is our food supply chain? What is our medical supply chain? The bottom line is, this is people's life expectancy, and it's not okay that people who choose to live in District 6 have to have a lower life expectancy because we don't have fresh food or pharmacies to get the medicine that we need.

NMIF: How did we get to this point? Why have pharmacy services in your district dwindled to this level? And what roadblocks are there to bringing them back?

ROGERS: Yeah, I think there's a lot of factors. We obviously hear about theft in places like Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, we've heard of that circling in the district. You know, I fundamentally feel like we've always had certain types of theft in retail. I've worked in retail. I think the difference here, though, is the organized rings that were going and putting people's safety at risk in the stores, and I think companies had to make hard decisions about that.

NMIF: The Albuquerque Health Equity Council has put together a map of proposed pharmacy sites. What are your thoughts on developing those sites into new pharmacies, and what needs to be done first to allow that to happen?

ROGERS: I think we have to have some tough conversations about why our district has historically not been invested in we need more clinics that offer pharmacy services in the clinic. That is something that we can work with our health partners on right now, and with people like owners of John's pharmacy to say, you know, our mom and pop ones that have been in this community. How do we help them expand? And if they're willing to do that, how do we help them with access to capital? I would like to see us figure that out.

NMIF: Walmart closed in March 2023 Walgreens closed in November 2023 those buildings are still empty in central part of your district. Are there any plans in the works to develop those sites to address this pharmacy desert, but also what you mentioned to grocery access in the International District?

ROGERS: Absolutely, that's top of my priorities. And I think because it's top of the community’s priorities, and so we absolutely are continuing to try to acquire Walgreens, CVS, Walmart. And I will keep saying Walmart is, you know, really holding out for the highest bidders. I think my job is, I think, for these particular sites, is to look at what's available to us, to if they're not willing to sell to the city, talking with developers who may have access to the capital that I don't in District 6 right now to be able to say, ‘Hey, how can you help in talks with Walmart, in talks with these other companies?’ So that's kind of my strategy is, let's talk to all of the developers who are interested in these properties, and talk also at the same time as we're trying to figure out how to acquire them. The community wants access to health care, food, housing, and daycare. That's the top four things that I'm hearing during our strategy sessions and everything as we're out in the community. And so we have to be working on poverty. This is the underlying cause of all of this. If a resident in District 6 is not in poverty, they have a car to go somewhere to get their medication, they can afford the delivery to come here. All of these things tie to poverty.

Watch the full interview with Rogers online at the New Mexico PBS website.