Close to a hundred of Ed Ullmann’s closest friends turned out this chilly Friday morning to celebrate the opening of America’s first not-for-profit community pharmacy in the old Key Bank branch on Main Street in the hamlet of Phoenicia. In the close-knit, small-town style of communication still familiar in rural Catskills communities, Ullmann skillfully introduced many of the folks crowded next to each other by name and sometimes occupation.
He also introduced members of the pharmacy staff, distinguishable by their white coats and name tags.
At one point, looking around at the gathering, he uttered the theme of such occasions: We’re all in this together. We need each other.
The 501c3 tax exemption enables Wellness Rx to receive grants and public funding. It is a Pharmacy for the Public Good, described as “a new medical model for the betterment of the profession of pharmacy.” A public trust is being established to receive donations.
In 2022, four pharmaceutical companies — CVS, Walgreen, Cigna and Optum — had 59.2 percent of the national market share for prescription drugs, In an industry increasingly dominated by these four corporate giants, “We want to see independent rural community pharmacies thrive and survive, and this model leads to sustainability and permanence,” explained Wellness Rx
Wellness Rx, which has had a pharmacy in Tannersville since 2016, blends traditional pharmacy with natural medicine. It describes its services as giving customers “a more patient-centered experience designed to promote wellness, rather than to continue the cycle of medicating.” After Phoenicia, Wellness Rx is planning to establish its next not-for-profit pharmacy in New Lebanon, in Columbia County.
Shelves with containers of natural medicines and vitamins line the walls of the former Key Bank of Phoenicia. The impressive safe left by the departed bank branch, still empty, will soon be used for storing medicines. After the formal opening, the crowd milled outside, spilling out on Main Street to chat some more, as they sometimes do after church services.
Ullmann is a veteran healthcare entrepreneur with more than 30 startups to his credit. He was the founder and CEO of Wellcare, an innovative Ulster County HMO. In his youth a county legislator representing his home community of Shandaken, he was a healthcare administrator at the county and state levels. And he was engaged in a wide variety of other healthcare enterprises throughout a long career. But he never forgot his hometown roots, and with this new enterprise Ed Ullmann has truly come home.