Many of Oakland’s pharmacies are closed in the wake of protests, riots and looting sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week. All 10 of Oakland’s Walgreens locations are closed after some were vandalized and burglarized over the weekend. As of today, only three of CVS’s eight Oakland stores remain open. Other locally-owned pharmacies throughout the city were also vandalized, but remain open.
Many worry that the closures will limit Oakland residents’ access to vital medications and other healthcare supplies, especially for people without adequate public transportation. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic heightens the danger of reduced access to medicine.
“It is especially cruel during this time when East Oakland is the epicenter of coronavirus cases in Alameda County,” said Oakland resident Kat Ferreira about the closures. “We have a lot of sick people here that shouldn’t have to travel far for their meds.”
A spokesperson for Walgreens told Oaklandside that the decision to board up stores was made for the safety of the company’s employees and customers.
Asked about how the store closure will impact Oakland residents’ access to medication, CVS said it is directing people to stores outside the area that remain open.
“We are working to reroute the phone systems of any closed pharmacies to nearby CVS locations so that patients will continue to have access to care,” a CVS spokesperson wrote in an email.
“It’s concerning and makes little sense,” Oakland City Council President Rebecca Kaplan said about the pharmacy closures. Kaplan said she’s contacted Walgreens and CVS about their plans to ensure Oakland residents can still access medication. Oakland residents with concerns or comments regarding the pharmacy closures can join next week’s City Council meeting on Monday, Jun 8, at 1:30 p.m.
Locally owned Access Pharmacy, at 2963 Fruitvale Ave., was looted multiple times over the weekend and is struggling to recover. “We are operating on a curbside pick-up capacity for now,” Access Pharmacy pharmacist Daniel Tobarti told Oaklandside.
The closures also left local clinics scrambling to help their patients access medications.
Staff of the Eastmont Wellness Center clinic said they are attempting to transfer prescriptions to Highland Hospital’s pharmacy and other local pharmacies.
In deep East Oakland, Roots Community Health Center, which serves the unhoused population, is currently re-routing prescriptions to pharmacies nearby, based on where the patient lives.
“The closures have left community-based organizations such as Roots at a disadvantage in ensuring that our patients have access to the medications that they need,” said Jamaica Sowell, Roots’ director of governmental and community affairs. “It’s been hard to navigate.”
Roots did not receive any prior warning from Walgreens or CVS about the closures or potential re-opening dates, according to the clinic’s staff. It was already difficult before the pharmacy closures to find locations close enough for patients to access. Many Roots Clinic patients do not have cars. Public transportation has been significantly scaled back due to the pandemic, and now civil unrest and curfew.
“It left our staff scrambling. It would have been nice for those pharmacies to give health centers like Roots a heads up,” said Sowell.
After hearing about the pharmacy closures, Ferreria, who also writes for Oakland Voices, posted on her Twitter account that she is willing to pick up and drop off prescriptions for those without transportation. Ferreira said she has set up a Google phone number (510-957-8157) for people in need to reach her. She also posted a flyer in English and Spanish at her nearby Walgreens on Foothill Blvd. in the Fruitvale District.
“When I saw the crowdsourced map on Twitter with all those red dots of closed pharmacies all over the East Oakland flatlands, I was outraged,” said Ferreira. “These businesses stayed open despite serious risks to their employees due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they have no hesitation closing their doors to protect their property?”
It was through Twitter that Darcy Nuñez, an Oakland resident and registered nurse, came across Ferreira’s post. Currently on leave from work due to an injury, Nuñez said she has free time, so she offered to help Ferreira.
The two did not previously know one another. Nuñez is bilingual and offered to translate Ferreira’s flyer. The two haven’t figured out the logistics of how they will pick up prescriptions if anyone takes them up on their offer.
“When I saw her post, I thought, I have a vehicle, how can I help?” said Nuñez.