Little Village neighbors denounce plan to close CVS pharmacy

Members of the Little Village community gathered on Friday to demand CVS reconsider its decision to close its pharmacy in the neighborhood, saying residents would have to travel too far to get their prescriptions filled.

The store, at 2634 S. Pulaski Road, is scheduled to close on June 7, CVS Health confirmed.

22nd Ward Ald. Michael Rodríguez said his office received “a number of phone calls, mostly from older people in the neighborhood who were worried about where they would go to fill their prescriptions.” He says he learned of the closure several weeks ago.

“We don’t want to see another ruined business in our community,” he said.

Rodríguez’s office asked CVS to reconsider the pharmacy’s closure in a May 18 letter signed by local elected officials, including U.S. Representative Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and State Senator Celia Villanueva, as well as community organizations. and healthcare, including Enlace Chicago, Howard Brown Health, Instituto del Progreso Latino, and St. Anthony and Sinai Chicago hospitals.

The letter states that the next closest CVS Pharmacy is in Cicero, approximately 2 ½ miles from the Little Village location. Residents of the neighborhood without a car will need to take a bus or two to fill their prescriptions, the letter says.

In a statement, CVS Health said all on-site prescriptions would be transferred to its Cicero store, and patients can also choose to transfer to other CVS pharmacies. The company declined to comment on the number of prescriptions it fills at the Little Village location.

“Maintaining access to pharmacy services in historically underserved communities is an important factor we consider when making store closure decisions,” the company’s statement read. “Other factors include local market dynamics, cultural and language barriers, consumer shopping habits, store density in a community, and ensuring that there are other geographic access points to meet community needs, including COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.”

There is a Walgreens Pharmacy down the street from the Little Village CVS at 26th Street and PulaskiRoad. But some patients won’t be able to transfer their medications there due to CVS-owned Aetna’s decision to remove Walgreens from its Aetna Better Health of Illinois Medicaid network in December 2020.

At the time, critics of the Aetna decision told the Tribune that the decision affected poor, predominantly black neighborhoods on the south and west sides of the city. Aetna said in a December 2020 statement that the decision “did not create or contribute to network access issues.”

“We meet or exceed all state access requirements for managed care organizations,” Aetna’s statement said. “In fact, the Illinois Department of Health and Family Services has reviewed our updated network and determined that it warrants fairness.”

Last year, CVS announced it would close 900 stores in the United States over three years. In a statement Friday, the company said it was in the process of transferring Little Village CVS employees to other stores. The chain currently has nearly 70 locations in Chicago.

“The organizations I represent believe that health care is a human right,” Anne Scheetz of Physicians for a National Health Program Illinois and the Illinois Single-Payer Coalition said at Friday’s press conference. “That it’s not a commodity that’s only available to those with money.”

Scheetz said she lives in Logan Square and there are four CVS pharmacies within walking distance of her house. “They’re adding stores in affluent neighborhoods,” she said. “And they close them down in those neighborhoods. It’s not good.

The closure was announced in the “context of a global pandemic that continues to rage”, said Raoul Contreras of the group Mi Villita Neighbors.

On Friday, speakers noted that Little Village had been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, ZIP code 60623, which includes the neighborhood, had the most virus-related deaths in Cook County.

Jesús Del Toro, a spokesman for Garcia, said Friday that the congressman had arranged a meeting with CVS federal affairs teams “to relay the concerns of Little Village community members and health advocates regarding the announced closure.

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