Bronx pharmacy owner discusses challenging experience during COVID-19

Photo by Jason Cohen

Situated under the Buhre Avenue stop for the 6 train is a large sign that illuminate the word “Drugs.” This is the home of Pilgrim Pharmacy, which Ray Macioci has operated for 44 years.

Macioci, a past board chairman of the Pharmacists Society State of New York, has worked in the pharmacy industry since the age of 14. His first job was in Belmont at Mount Carmel Pharmacy.

Even though pharmacies were deemed essential and he has been open throughout the pandemic, he told the Bronx Times that the experience has not been easy.

“It’s been challenging to say the least,” he said. “I can’t praise my staff as much as they deserve to be praised.”

Macioci, 71, said this has been one of the most difficult times in his long career. Knowing that the safety of his employees and customers are of utmost importance, he adapted.

When the coronavirus arrived in late February early March he took action. He put up Plexiglass barriers at the register, made sure all employees always wore gloves and face masks, handed out gloves and masks to customers, stopped selling lotto tickets, encouraged customers to call in orders for their prescriptions, did curbside pickup for medicine and has even been using DoorDash to have medicine delivered.

Pilgrim also has a courier service that brings medicine to people.

“It’s a difficult situation with these folks getting to the pharmacy,” he explained, adding that despite being an essential business, there has been less foot traffic over the past few months.

Ray Macioci has operated Pilgrim Pharmacy for 44 years.

According to Macioci, fewer people are seeing their physicians right now, so there are not as many prescriptions being written.

The past five months definitely have not been a “picnic,” he said. He cut store hours, received financial assistance from the government and feels fortunate to be afloat. Macioci noted seeing the restaurants shuttered and numerous businesses forced to close is heartbreaking.

“You try to your best,” he explained. “This isn’t going to end anytime soon.”

Macioci explained another challenge is dealing with the unregulated Pharmacy Benefit Management industry. Health care providers have been struggling for years at the hands of powerful prescription drug middlemen and COVID-19 has accelerated their demise.

Pharmacists have been filling high volumes of prescriptions at a loss and providing free delivery and other costly-but-essential services to their patients, raising concerns that many pharmacies won’t survive the pandemic. In the final days of 2019, Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill described as the “nation’s toughest crackdown” on Rx middlemen after it passed the New York State Legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support.

“It’s been challenging over the past 10 or 15 years with the PBM industry,” he commented. “It’s something the state needs to reign in. The PBM’s have been ripping the state off for a lot of money.”

As Macioci looks ahead, he and his staff will continue to do their jobs and provide services for the community.

“We’re in the business of taking care of people,” he stressed. “If a pharmacy closes suddenly then the folks that went there, where are they going to get their medicine?”

This story first appeared on our sister publication bxtimes.com.