Throughout the country in both urban and rural areas, there are gaps in healthcare availability, pharmacists like Benjamin Ezekiel work to fill in the cracks. His store, Life Tree Pharmacy, operates out of the northeast area of Milwaukee.
Ezekiel also works with his community to provide education on medications and other health matters. His efforts have been given a boost thanks to his collaboration with groups like Unite Milwaukee. He has owned and operated Life Tree for nearly two years but has been a pharmacist in Milwaukee for more than a decade.
“I became registered as a pharmacist here in the U.S. in the year 2006,” Ezekiel said. “I started working as a staff pharmacist after years of internship with Aurora Healthcare group in Milwaukee.”
After years of working as an intern with Aurora he became a pharmacist, working for Aurora and going to different stores. Eventually he would start operating out of grocery store pharmacies.
“My pharmacy was bought over by a grocery chain and I started working as a staff pharmacist,” Ezekiel said. “After three years of working as a staff pharmacist I moved to another store, where I became the manager and I was the manager for seven years.”
During his time as manager, the chain was purchased by another larger grocery chain and he continued as a manager for a year and then began to notice some changes. This included an increased focus on numbers and less time to talk to patients.
“I saw a lot of things that I could have done for customers, but I was not able to do,” Ezekiel said.
He realized he should move on to a position where he could have a relationship with patients and customers. He wanted the flexibility to do things the way they should be done for the benefit of his customers.
“So that’s when Life Tree Pharmacy was born,” Ezekiel said. “It has been exciting so far.”
His community is one of the major motivating factors for him to be in independent pharmacy.
“I have the chance to go to gatherings, put my materials out there, invite people to come and just benefit from the expertise that we offer,” Ezekiel said. “We even go to churches once in a while, we just try to be out there as much as possible.”
While there he’s not just advertising for his pharmacy, he’s working to help members of the community understand medications and receive healthcare.
“There’s a lot of ignorance out there about medications,” Ezekiel said. “There’s a lot to put out there for the people and we just want to make ourselves more and more accessible to the community.”
Among the areas of healthcare, he works to help people with is obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and opioids. As an educator and resource person for the community he helps to provide basic medications that some people may not have easy access to, for both physical and mental health.
One of Ezekiel’s biggest challenges has been getting to a point with his community where they trust him to provide the level of care he does.
“They (community members) will watch you for a while, they will see if you are real or not and see if you care, then they will allow you to help whichever way you can,” Ezekiel said. “I don’t know what may have happened in the past to some of them.”
Ezekiel also realized that he couldn’t do everything for the community on his own and that he needed to work with other community resources to achieve his goals.
“We are beginning to see how incapable we are and so we have to kind of reach out and bring in more help,” Ezekiel said.
His pharmacy has brought in bigger groups and their resources through partnerships for the common good. In a sense Ezekiel works as an in-between for groups like Unite Milwaukee and Pastors United. He’s also working to bring in more groups, including the Milwaukee Public Schools.
Though he isn’t able to quantify the effect he has had on the community, he did say his impact would be measured by any lives that have been saved or improved through the work he and his staff does at Life Tree.
“We’re just trying to fill a void and a gap in the city … only time will tell,” Ezekiel said.
His pharmacy fills about 65 to 75 scripts each day and he offers free prescription deliveries. Some other services he provides include, Free blister packaging for older folks and support services for group homes and half way homes for adults.
Other ways he helps the community is by providing in-house discounts for those without insurance, close to cost and services like immunizations, drug clinics, blood tests and diabetes testing.
“It doesn’t cost the pharmacy a lot to provide these services for free,” Ezekiel said. “We’re just responding to a need.”
Life Tree also provides these types of services at events they attend and sponsor, like Milwaukee’s Juneteenth event.”
But like other pharmacies they face the issue of low reimbursements from PBMs and DIR fees.
“Most of the drug reimbursements are being reimbursed below cost.” Ezekiel said.
That is where IPC comes in with their competitive pricing and better rebates.