Skip to content

A town square for an unsquare town

redbankgreen

Standing for the vitality of Red Bank, its community, and the fun we have together.

RED BANK: NO-CHARGE PHARMACY TO OPEN

red-bank-ritesh-shah-pharmacy-022822-2-500x375-6757128The Ritesh Shah Charitable Pharmacy is expected to open in April, its founder said. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

hot-topic_03-220x138-220x138-7378486Red Bank is about to become home to New Jersey’s first free-medication drugstore, its founder told redbankgreen this week.

Pharmacist Ritesh Shah said he plans to open the no-charge dispensary next month in memory of his sister, who died from complications of COVID-19.

red-bank-ritesh-shah-022822-500x375-8888224Pharmacist Ritesh Shah in his soon-to-open store, above, and with Dorothea Bongiovi and Jon Bon Jovi at Pilgrim Baptist Church in 2018. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

bon-jovi-ritesh-111518-2-220x174-6018261The Ritesh Shah Charitable Pharmacy, at 224 Shrewsbury Avenue, will focus on providing commonly used medications for chronic conditions, such as blood pressure and heart disease, diabetes and mental health.

Prescribed drugs will be available to uninsured customers whose yearly earnings are no more than three times the federal poverty guidelines of $12,880 for an individual and $26,500 for a family of four, Shah said Monday.

“Anybody who is struggling to buy medicine, or put food on the table, we’re going to give them medicine at no charge,” he said. The store’s formulary covers about 185 medications; no narcotic drugs will be dispensed, he said.

Signs identifying the pharmacy went up over the weekend at the the vacant former home of the Shrewsbury Avenue Pharmacy, just three days after the New Jersey Board of Pharmacy approved the store and its formulary, Shah said.

Shah constructed the building, which has four apartments on two upper floors, and opened the Shrewsbury Avenue Pharmacy on the ground floor in June, 2017. He later sold the business, but it failed under the new owner in late 2020, Shah said.

The charitable pharmacy will operate rent-free in the storefront, managed by Shah’s wife of 26 years, Asha, also a pharmacist. The couple own four other pharmacies in Monmouth County.

Before and during the pandemic, those stores gave the Shahs a front-row seat on the challenges many customers faced in paying for expensive maintenance drugs, Shah said.

Prescriptions written by clinics often are “not reaching the pharmacy,” because patients must choose between eating or paying rent and buying medication, he said. An income of $36,000, three times the federal poverty level, is quickly “gone” covering only basic living expenses, he said.

The idea to give medications away solidified in late October, after Shah’s “baby sister,” 43-year-old Rena, died from complications of the coronavirus in their native India, he said.

Shah had traveled to see his sister, a diabetes patient, who was in a hospital on a ventilator, but she died as he was en route from the airport, leaving his family “devastated,” he said, choking with emotion.

Returning home to Freehold, “I told my wife, ‘God is good to us,'” Shah said, but the money he earns “is not helping me. What helps me is giving back to the people.

“I can cry about it or I can do something about it,” he said about his loss. Now, “I’m pretty sure my sister is happy and smiling down on us.”

In addition to income from his own stores, Shah pulls in a salary as chief executive officer for Legacy Pharmacy Group, a purchasing operation for about 550 independent community drugstores in the mid-Atlantic region.

“That’s my day job,” he said.

Shah said he is seeking 501 c-3 nonprofit organization status to fund the drugstore. In the meantime, he said, he and Asha plan to cover the costs out of their own pockets. He has yet to decide whether he’ll stock and give away over-the-counter medications, he said.

“I’m not a red-tape guy, I don’t want to wait for the bureaucracy,” he said. “I just want to start doing business.”

Customers will be asked to fill out a short online form once to establish their income eligibility, Shah said. Those who don’t have paperwork on their first visit will be asked to bring it on their second, he said.

“When they come in, I want to make sure they don’t go out without medication,” he said. “These are life-saving medications.”

The store will also provide free vaccinations to children, helping to reduce flu-season school absenteeism, he said.

The program will not only prolong and save lives of customers, but reduce the burden of hospital costs borne by taxpayers and insurance customers, Shah said.

Red Bank resident Matt Anderson, who serves on the new pharmacy’s board of directors, told redbankgreen that when Shah explained the concept to him last year, he saw it “would have a positive effect on the community.”

But after a friend who works as a medical intern at the Parker Family Health Center across the street spoke excitedly about the pharmacy, “it became clear to me just how important this will be, and how large of an effect it will have,” Anderson said.

Other states have seen no-charge drugstores open ahead of New Jersey, Shah said, citing Tennessee-based Dispensary of Hope and others.

If you value the news coverage provided by redbankgreen, please become a financial supporter for as little as $1 per month. Click here to set your own level of monthly or annual contribution.

Remember: Nothing makes a Red Bank friend happier than to hear "I saw you on Red Bank Green!"
Partyline
RED BANK: NEW MURAL BRIGHTENS CORNER
RED BANK: Lunch Break founder Norma Todd is depicted in a mural painted this week on the front of the newly renovated social service agency.
TULIPS TOGETHER
Spring tulips taking in the sunset outside the Molly Pitcher Inn in Red Bank Monday evening.
RIVER RANGERS RETURN
River Rangers, a summer canoeing program offered by the Navesink Maritime Heritage Association, returns this summer for up to 20 participa ...
DOUBLE DYLAN IN RED BANK
Trucks for a production company filming what one worker said was a Bob Dylan biography have lined Monmouth Street the past two days with cre ...
AFTER THE RAIN
A pear tree branch brought down by a brief overnight storm left a lovely tableau on the sidewalk in front of Red Bank's Riverside Gardens Pa ...
CONE OF UNCERTAINTY
Asked by a redbankgreen reporter why these cones were on top of cars, the owner of the car in the foreground responded: “That’s ...
RAIL RIDER’S VIEW
A commuter's view of Cooper's Bridge and the Navesink River from North Jersey Coast Line train 3320 out of Red Bank Tuesday morning.
PUT ME IN COACH!
Red Bank T-Ball kicked off at East Side park on Saturday morning. The brisk weather proved to be no deterrent to the young players, ranging ...
IT’S A SIGN!
Once proudly declaring its all-but-certain arrival in Spring 2019, the project previously known as Azalea Gardens springs to life again with ...
SPRINGTIME MEMORIES OF CARL
The Easter Bunny getup and St. Patrick’s Day hat that belonged to longtime Red Bank crossing guard and neighborhood smile-creator Carl ...
RED TRUCKS AT RED ROCK
A small dishwasher fire at Red Rock Tap and Grill was put out quickly by firefighters overnight, causing minimal damage. Red Bank Fire Depar ...
CREATIVE COVER UP
The windows of Pearl Street Consignment on Monmouth Street were smashed when a driver crashed their car through them injuring an employee la ...
THEY’RE BACK!
Ospreys returned to the skies over Red Bank this week for the first time since they migrated to warmer climes in late fall. With temperature ...
SPRING IS SPRUNG
RED BANK: Spring 2024 arrives on the Greater Red Bank Green with the vernal equinox at 11:06 p.m. Tuesday.
RED BANK’S FINEST – AND NEWEST
Red Bank Police Officer Eliot Ramos was sworn in as the force’s newest patrolman Thursday, and if you’re doing a double take thinkin ...
EASTER EGG MAYHEM AT THE PARK
An errant whistle spurred an unexpectedly early start to the Spring Egg Hunt on Sunday, which had been scheduled to begin at eggsactly 11am ...
PRESEASON DOCKWORK
RED BANK: With winter winding down, marina gets ready for boating season with some dockwork on our beautiful Navesink River.
CORNED BEEF AND DISCO FRIES?
It’s Friday, and smart Lent-observing Leprechauns know the pot of gold at the end of Red Bank’s rainbow is actually the deliciou ...
SURFBOARD DITCHED
It’s a violation of etiquette in surfing to ditch your board.  (it could hit another surfer and hurt them). But someone appears to ha ...
ELSIE, TAKE ME WITH YOU!
Soaked by pouring rain with the temperature hovering in the low 40’s, this sign in the window of Elsie’s Subs on Monmouth Street ...