Rite Aid’s plan to close more stores as part of its bankruptcy process could negatively impact access to medicine and care, particularly in some majority Black and Hispanic neighborhoods and in rural areas, according to experts. The drugstore chain, which operates mainly on the East and West coasts, said it will close underperforming stores as part of its voluntary Chapter 11 process. While it has not yet specified which stores will close, it has been reported that 400 to 500 stores may be shut down.
When drugstore chains close stores, they often target lower-income, Black, and Latino neighborhoods, regardless of whether or not there is another pharmacy nearby. This can create “pharmacy deserts” in these neighborhoods, where residents, who are less likely to own cars, have to travel more than half a mile to the nearest drugstore. It also affects rural areas where drugstores may be miles away. The closure of stores can worsen the problem of pharmacy deserts and disparities in pharmacy access, making it harder for patients to stay on their regular prescriptions and impacting their health.
In addition to filling prescriptions, many of these stores have become sources for vaccines and healthcare. Rite Aid has stated that it will make efforts to ensure its customers have access to health services, either at another Rite Aid or another nearby pharmacy. However, the economics of providing pharmacy access in low-income and rural areas can be challenging for drugstore chains.
The closure of stores by Rite Aid raises concerns about the emergence of “pharmacy deserts” and disparities in pharmacy access, particularly in minority and low-income communities. Efforts need to be made to ensure that adequate pharmacy services are available to all individuals, regardless of their location or socioeconomic status.
Associated Press video journalist Ted Shaffrey contributed to this report.
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