With pharmacies around the country shifting to provide more comprehensive care and becoming true health care destinations, Chichi Ilonzo Momah, PharmD, RPh said she is excited for the future of the field.
From a young age, Chichi Ilonzo Momah, PharmD, RPh, knew she was interested in a career in pharmacy.
Growing up in a Nigerian American family, Momah helped her grandparents understand their medications, and seeing their challenges interacting with the health care system inspired her to become a voice for others in a similar position. Now, as CEO and owner of Springfield Pharmacy in Springfield, Pennsylvania, part of the Good Neighbor Pharmacy network, Momah spends every day advocating for her patients.
“Just being able to be that voice for [my grandparents] and explain things to them, even as a child that was not a college graduate yet, [it] sparked the interest for me to want to do this and help others that are like my parents, like my grandparents, and like my own family members, to speak for them and advocate for them,” Momah said in an interview with Pharmacy Times.
Springfield Pharmacy was founded 11 years ago and has become a pillar of the community in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. As part of the Good Neighbor Pharmacy network of independently owned and operated pharmacies, Momah said she’s received support and resources to optimize the business and help patients.
Delaware County is home to nearly 600,000 residents, Momah said, noting that it did not have a health department prior to the pandemic. Although that has since changed, she said the COVID-19 pandemic amplified health needs in the community. Working together with her 13 team members, Momah said she hopes the pharmacy can help fill gaps in care for the county.
“Our vision for Springfield Pharmacy is to be a trusted voice for health care in our community, and not only to be a trusted voice, but to also be a light in our community where people look for answers,” Momah explained. “People look to [us] for resources, people look for directions when it comes to health care products and services.”
Springfield Pharmacy was chosen to be one of the first sites in Delaware County to administer the COVID-19 vaccine in the spring of 2021, although Momah said they did not have nearly enough to fill the demand. The waitlist started with hundreds of people and quickly grew to thousands, eventually reaching more than 50,000.
“We had the people in our store ready to help with the vaccine, but we didn’t have the product,” Momah said. “So, we just kept making a lot of noise until we had access, and then we were able to strategize logistically and help a lot of people. We administered over 100,000 COVID vaccines.”
She added that they were one of the first pharmacies in the county to have access to COVID-19 tests, as well as antiviral medications and some monoclonal antibodies. After witnessing the challenges in her community both before and during the pandemic, Momah became a strong advocate for her patients, particularly those who were underserved. She continues to have a passion to serve her community today.
“I noticed in most of my clinics that the people that showed up were people that could afford it, had the means, had the resources, were more educated. And I noticed that a lot of the underserved population weren’t able to reach me, and I needed to go to them,” Momah said.
She noted that the lack of recognition as a healthcare provider can be a barrier for pharmacists trying to reach these underserved communities. Particularly as an independent pharmacy owner, Momah said it can be challenging for her voice to be heard. Building connections and identifying resources is crucial, and she credits her partnership with Good Neighbor Pharmacy and Cencora (formerly AmerisourceBergen) for helping to amplify her voice.
“I noticed quickly that I could yell all I want, I can complain all I want, but sharing the stories, the little stories of helping a little kid with a family or elderly patients that don’t have [resources]…people connect more to stories and relate more to stories,” Momah said. “And going into pharmacy did help me bring about platforms to help me share my story so I can advocate and continue to advocate for the underserved population to increase accessibility.”
As a member of the Good Neighbor Pharmacy network, Momah also said she has access to a business coach, who she said has supported her “wildest dreams” and encouraged her and provided resources to expand the pharmacy’s reach into the community. With everything from business efficiencies to budgeting, she said his support and guidance has been crucial.
The pharmacy has also moved well beyond dispensing, incorporating clinical services and programs such as the immunizations, point-of-care testing, and monoclonal antibodies for COVID-19, as well as services around hypertension, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. She often has big goals and plans, and Momah said her business coach has helped her manage the logistics to bring them to fruition.
“Even though I’m so passionate about helping patients, I still need to make sure that the business side of things is working out, because I need the funds to help those patients,” she said.
Since their work during the pandemic, Momah said Springfield Pharmacy is seen as a light in the community, with local leaders and partners looking to collaborate with them on immunizations, preventive health, and more. Delaware County has implemented an Emergency Preparedness Division, which Momah is involved with to help plan for future potential emergencies and ensure that the community is prepared.
Despite all of her efforts, Momah acknowledged that there will always be patients who remain skeptical about vaccines or other recommendations from their health care providers. One of the most valuable lessons Momah gained from the pandemic was that her role as a pharmacist is to provide the necessary information as a specialist, although she can’t force patients to take her recommendations. Similarly, she said patients will decide how they want to utilize and interact with their pharmacy.
“You can tell people what you would like to be [seen as]…but ultimately, the community chooses what they need you to be,” she said. “And right now, they need me to be the subject matter expert where vaccines are concerned. They need me to be the vaccine specialist. They need me to know everything the FDA, and the CDC, and the manufacturers, everyone is saying around vaccines, because that’s [how] they see me as a pharmacist.”
With pharmacies around the country shifting to provide more comprehensive care and expanding their practices, Momah said she is excited for the future of the field. She encouraged other independent pharmacy owners and pharmacists to connect with local leaders and politicians who want to help their constituents, and advocate for their business and patients. Persistence is also key, she noted.
“Don’t give up. You know, that the benefit of being a pharmacist is that we’re problem solvers,” Momah said. “So, if they say ‘no,’ come back with a different strategy, come back with a different picture, a different analogy. If the door is locked, go through the windows.”
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