Rutgers University will be shutting down all three on-campus student pharmacies sometime later this fall, said Melodee Lasky, assistant vice chancellor for Health & Wellness, in an interview with The Daily Targum.
The closures are due to a national shift in consumer demand trending away from traditional retail pharmacies, increased drug prices and a greater demand for services at the University’s mental health facilities, Lasky said.
Discussion of closing the three student pharmacies at Hurtado Health Center, Busch-Livingston Health Center and Cook Douglass Health Center had been going on for more than a year, Lasky said. It was not an easy decision for her, but she promised that there will be no break in care. The University's health centers will offer initial doses of prescribed medicine, help students transfer to local pharmacies and launch a pilot program to have pharmaceutical mail-in orders sent to where the student pharmacies are currently located.
Rutgers Student Health, which is currently operating under a deficit, has seen mail orders become the preferred method for many health insurance companies and health care consumers, Lasky said. Many drug prices have risen in recent years while the reimbursements received from health insurance companies for the drugs have not kept up, causing even greater financial distress.
“This is not something where I said, ‘Oh, let’s close the pharmacy,’ it is something that we have been looking in and working toward for a year or two trying to investigate. We have seen that the number of prescriptions have gone down with the pharmacy, and the costs have just really escalated,” Lasky said.
The financial problems the student pharmacies have experienced are not isolated incidents, Lasky said. In fact, Walgreens, one of the largest pharmacy chains in the country, announced in July that it will be closing approximately 200 stores due to the transformational shifts in the industry, according to the Chicago Tribune.
In addition to making financial cuts, Lasky is also investing in more staff and services such as Next Step at Counseling, Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program & Psychiatric Services (CAPS), as mental health has become an increasingly serious problem on college campuses throughout the country.
Lasky has hired a community service counselor this September, and is looking to hire another one later this semester, bringing the total number of community-based counselors from 6 to 8. Lasky is also looking to hire new psychiatrist and social worker.
“We’re trying to prioritize,” she said. “The biggest thing we know is that students need for mental health centers is expanding.”
The closings will result in layoffs, although how many is not something that has been decided yet, Lasky said. Students will be notified that they are able to switch their prescriptions to another pharmacy before the closing date, when the prescriptions that are left with Rutgers will be transferred to the closest pharmacy available.
During the discussions about the student pharmacies, attempts were made to hire someone to take control of the pharmacies, but no one wanted the job, Lasky said. Ultimately, the decision to close was discussed with Rutgers--New Brunswick Chancellor Christopher J. Molloy and a member of the Board of Trustees, who both came to the conclusion that the pharmacies were no longer a sustainable project.
“If we didn’t have to close it, I wouldn’t, but there is not quite enough money to go around,” Lasky said.
Still, some are skeptical about the shortage of funding.
“I've been looking at my tuition and every year it increases, but somehow they can't afford the three pharmacies,” said Seulbom Lee, a School of Nursing junior.
Although the University plans to announce and notify students of its new accommodations for the change, the move is still a cause for concern for some, as they see economic changes happening nationwide beginning to creep onto campus.
“I'm just really concerned about this,” Lee said. “What else will they cut down on that's necessary for our daily life?”