East Side resident Carla Bautista is 34 weeks into a high-risk pregnancy and needs both a hormone therapy and insulin to treat gestational diabetes, but her local Walgreens is temporarily closed after damage from recent riots.
“Every day we call in to Walgreens and just get a message that this store is closed,” said the 37-year-old mother of two.
Her local Walgreens is located at 118th and Avenue O. Two other Walgreens stores in the area — at 106th and Ewing and another on Commercial Avenue — were damaged even worse and remain closed.
Looting and riots over the past few days closed dozens of pharmacies, including those operated by Walgreens, CVS and other retailers. Some remain shuttered for safety concerns.
Bautista’s mother, who lives close by, also needs to get medications, including an antibiotic, a steroid and the lung therapy Albuterol to treat symptoms of COVID-19. Bautista’s father is planning to drive 45 minutes into Highland, Ind., Wednesday morning to pick up the prescriptions.
Duckworth reaches out to Walgreens, CVS
The plight of those in dire need of their medications caught the attention of Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., who, after hearing stories from her staffers and constituents, phoned top executives of CVS and Walgreens, headquartered in suburban Deerfield.
“My idea was to make sure to touch base with both Walgreens and CVS and make sure that they would really open those store that are, that have been affected, as soon as possible,” Duckworth told the Chicago Sun-Times Tuesday.
“And that they would commit to, in the stores that have been burned down, that they would commit to coming back and not abandoning the store because often times those stores are the anchors for those local communities.”
After the 1968 riots in Chicago, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., some ransacked retailers never reopened — and no new businesses ever replaced them.
A source said that Duckworth talked to a top executive at Walgreens, Alex Gourlay, the co-chief operating officer.
They’re planning on reopening most of their stores within five days, Duckworth said.
But the seven stores that she was told had “badly burned” may take “awhile” to reopen, she said, although she was assured they will come back to those communities.
Duckworth said she also floated an alternative of rushing delivery of medicine to people in dire need.
And she asked “about them sending in mobile units to a central location, so that people can pick up their meds.” In reply, Duckworth said she was told stores “are just going to mail it to people and get it delivered to their homes.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot is also making reopening pharmacies and groceries a top priority “and making sure that we can get those resources into our neighborhoods that were hard pressed before” closures due to looting and protests, she said at a Tuesday press conference.
Lightfoot applauded for Duckworth pushing CVS and Walgreens “to provide alternatives to customers who need those vital medicines, who need diapers and formula so that we can provide alternatives while these stores are on the mend and recovery. And we’ll be announcing more on that soon.”
Security is key to reopening drug stores.
“The safety of our team members and customers remains our top priority, and we are thankful for Mayor Lightfoot’s support for additional police presence at pharmacies and grocery stores,” a Walgreens spokesman said.
“Walgreens remains committed to serving the communities of Chicago. We are in the process of assessing damage at our stores and will work to reopen locations and restore pharmacy services across the city. We’re also working as quickly as possible to reach out to patients at impacted stores to help with their prescription needs and information regarding nearest open Walgreens locations.”
Almost two dozen CVS pharmacies, including those located inside Target stores, were closed as of midday Tuesday, a spokeswoman said. A dozen more remained closed.
“Many of our stores have since reopened, but the number of store closures is fluid,” she said.
“We’re continually monitoring the situation and will close stores, if needed, to ensure the safety of employees and customers,” the spokeswoman said.
CVS “is working to reroute the phone systems of any closed pharmacies to nearby CVS locations so that patients will continue to have access to care.”
Wal-Mart said “several” stores remain closed. Asked what they’re doing to help get medicine to their customers, the spokesman said: “We would refer them to another nearby store to fill the prescription.”
Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust. Lynn Sweet is the Sun-Times’ Washington Bureau Chief.