A (Red) Ribbon Cutting

By Tamara Juarez, July 2016 Issue.

Chronic diseases, such as HIV and AIDS, are not easy to monitor. They require a strict adherence to medication and constant supervision by health professionals who can keep track of each patient’s wellbeing.

Fortunately for Phoenix residents, receiving medical care for such conditions may have gotten a little easier. Thanks to Walgreens’ new specialty pharmacy, located at Central Avenue and Encanto Boulevard, customers can now access a wider variety of health services with the same convenience the drugstore is known for.

The latest addition by the retail chain is certified to treat customers with complex diseases and everyday illnesses, making it the first of its kind to open in Arizona.

Due to the rising number of HIV and AIDS infections across the Valley, Walgreens aims to dedicate its initial efforts to serving the HIV community and reaching out to populations at a higher risk of contracting these diseases.

Clinic manager David Costlow explained the challenges of managing chronic disease patients, and the benefits of Walgreens’ new pharmacy.

“There was a need for this specialty pharmacy that was identified by Walgreens, by our patient population and our providers,” he said. “Trying to manage patients with HIV and AIDS in retail stores can be chaotic and doesn’t allow time for pharmacist to focus on the patient’s needs. We are a low-volume pharmacy, so have more availability and flexibility. A site like this provides a single point of contact where we’re going to customize our services for the patients and their families.”

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services’ 2015 annual report, there are 16,608 people living with HIV or AIDS in Arizona, marking a 23 percent increase over the last five years.

Particularly with a chronic disease like HIV or AIDS customers must feel safe and comfortable to interact with a pharmacist, Costlow said.

To account for each patient’s medical, financial and personal needs, Walgreens’ specialty pharmacy provides free shipping of all prescriptions, financial assistance by specially certified technicians and complete confidentiality with the aid of a private consultation room.

Jennifer Davis, Walgreen’s pharmacy manager, assures patients will receive the best possible care and whatever degree of privacy they request.

“Our specialty site is set up to foster confidentiality above all things,” she said. “We have a very small waiting area and a private consultation room with frosted glass, so no one can see inside. It’s the perfect place to sit down with a pharmacist and ask questions about medications or their HIV or transmission. Even if someone isn’t HIV positive, but they want to discuss risk factors or PrEP, we can speak with patients for as long as they need about any condition.”

As someone who’s been positive for more than 20 years, Kit Kloeckl, director of programs at HIV-focused nonprofit organization Aunt Rita’s Foundation, knows the significance of feeling secure and accepted by doctors.

“It’s very important for some people, especially those who have been recently diagnosed, to have privacy,” he said. “You’re really concerned about having a disease and about who’s going to know. This specialty [pharmacy] is a place where, as soon as you come in, you know that you’re going to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Kloeckl spoke to Davis and Costlow about the LGBTQ community and about the struggles they face with the added stigma associated with HIV and AIDS. Kloeckl, the specialty pharmacy’s first customer, was met with a positive response by staff.

“The experience you have here is going to be supportive rather than degrading,” he said, emphasizing the importance of communication, awareness and community outreach to decrease the spread of some chronic diseases.

“Unfortunately, many young gay men tend to think that HIV and AIDS are ‘old men’s diseases,’ but infections are most prominent among 13- to 24-year-olds,” Kloeckl said. “There are more and more infections each year. We’re going the wrong direction, and I think it’s very important to have this type of specialty pharmacy in the community.”

Aside from HIV and AIDS, Walgreens’ new specialty pharmacy also treats other chronic ailments, such as Hepatitis C, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, transplants and some cancers.

“We are not going to turn anyone who walks through our doors seeking medication away,” Costlow said. “We are here to help the whole community however we can.”

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