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Hampton Roads’ Black-owned pharmacies play a key role in addressing health disparities

Dr. Anna Peoples owns Peoples Pharmacy in Norfolk and uses her business to help build trust among people who historically mistrust health care providers. (Photo by Nick McNamara)
Dr. Anna Peoples owns Peoples Pharmacy in Norfolk and uses her business to help build trust among people who historically mistrust health care providers. (Photo by Nick McNamara)


The Virginia Department of Health reports life expectancy for all Black Virginians is five years less than white Virginians; The maternal mortality rate for Black mothers in Virginia is almost double that of all mothers in the state; and Black Virginians also die from cardiovascular disease at a higher rate than any other race in Virginia.

Those are trends Black pharmacists in Hampton Roads try to reverse by building trust in a community that is often wary of health practitioners. 

“When you have someone that looks like you they can better understand where you’re coming from … maybe even the challenges you have when you’re trying to get, say, certain prescriptions filled,” said Dr. Cynthia Burwell, director of Norfolk State’s Center of Excellence in Minority Health Disparities. 

“They understand your cultural background, they understand what’s going on in the community.”

More patients of all backgrounds use community pharmacies at nearly double the rate of other health care providers, putting Black pharmacists in position to make a difference. 

Cultural competency coupled with their professional expertise makes Black pharmacists well suited to attend to the specific health needs of Black patients.

Dr. Anna Peoples owns Peoples Pharmacy in Norfolk. She pointed out the challenge of treating a common condition among Black men: high blood pressure.

“But how are you treating it? You’re treating it like they’re a white man, but they’re not - their genes are different,” she said.

Dr. Peoples said she’s able to talk to patients on a level that might not have the same impact if delivered by a doctor of a different racial background. 

The sentiment is echoed by Dr. Jade Ranger, who owns Williamsburg’s Prescription Shoppe with her husband Dr. Henry Ranger - the city’s first Black-owned pharmacy. 

She said building trust with Black patients, who can be wary of health institutions given a history of medical mistreatment of people of color, has only become more important during the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine rollout. 

Dr. Ranger recalls one of her patients, a Black woman, who was moved to tears because Ranger took time to talk to her about concerns and questions.

“When you have providers who look like you, who can relate to your experience in life, it does offer some type of kinship where you feel like I’m seen [and] I know that you’re having my best interest at heart,” she said.

Dr. Peoples and the Rangers are owners of two of only a few Black-owned pharmacies in Hampton Roads. Both businesses are open to patients of any race.

Dr. Peoples wants to address disparities for any medically underserved people, and treats a diverse patient base at her Church Street location. She said throughout her career, she’s figured out how to connect with everyone.

“During the times that I was the only Black pharmacist, the only medical information pharmacist, the retail pharmacist, I had to interact with everybody,” she said. “And sometimes I did not interact with anybody that looked like me. I was just a lone ranger.”

Dr. Ranger said The Prescription Shoppe in Williamsburg helped embed her family in the community. It gives them a platform to engage with their neighbors, she said.

That kind of immersion makes independent pharmacies, Black-owned or otherwise, so impactful in their locales according to Dr. Burwell at NSU.

“They are able to plan programs in the community, work with churches in the community, work with civic groups in the community and then they are able to give back more to the community,” Dr. Burwell said.

 “Then you have people who can develop those relationships with them that will hopefully help take us in a different path when it comes to health disparities.”