A Small Town Pharmacy With a Big HeartA Small Town Pharmacy With a Big Heart
Ed Ullman has a diverse and impressive 50-year resume in healthcare. He’s trained as a pharmacist, but he’s been immersed in many aspects of the field: mental health, addiction, abuse, launching health maintenance organizations (HMOs), and most recently integrative and complementary care.
But it’s his history of overcoming adversity and his compassion for people that drive him. That much is evident in Wellness Rx, a merger of his lifetime of affairs. This community nonprofit pharmacy—under the organizational umbrella Pharmacy for the Public Good—is the first of its kind with a vision for many more to come.
Located in a bright Victorian house fittingly on Main Street of the touristy village Tannersville in upstate New York’s Catskill Mountains, Wellness Rx is planting the seeds for a movement that brings basic primary care back to rural communities in America.
It’s a pharmacy and also a wellness center, blending natural medicine with public and mental health services, telemedicine, and clinical services. It’s a place where minor emergencies can be triaged, patient assistance programs can be accessed, and staff are equipped to deal with specific community needs.
Mr. Ullman’s approach is simple. He overemphasizes the care in “healthcare,” and the health in this community of about 500 is naturally improving for it. He’s a hero here, where residents swap stories about how Mr. Ullman has rescued them.
And it’s not just with pharmaceuticals and tinctures—many made by local small businesses. He’s been known to deliver food to patients without transportation and make house calls for medicine and treatment. His budget, backed by local donors, allows Wellness Rx to help in crisis situations.
“I wanted to find a way to use pharmacies at the community level to form a new business model,” Ullman said. “The demand is huge. Our model is very attractive.”
Rose Luciano is one of the beneficiaries. She is a transplant from Long Island—about three hours away—where she once managed the office of a homeopathic practitioner and loves having the best of both healing worlds close by.
She recently had to wait two years for knee surgery because of COVID-19 restrictions and then because of a dangerously high platelet count. She couldn’t drive, so she got rid of her car. Loneliness quickly set in for Luciano, an extrovert who lives alone.
But the staff at Wellness Rx brought her food, comforted her when she came in crying, and made a cake for her birthday. Mr. Ullman brought medications to her, and explained information about her diabetes that her doctor didn’t take the time to tell her.
“He neutralizes my frustrations,” Luciano said. “He doesn’t ignore anybody. He takes the time to talk to people. Everybody in town loves Ed. He’s really a darling. He genuinely loves his job, loves his mission. The Lord has put a mantle on that man.”
People Come First
When Mr. Ullman cast his vision, it attracted a team of people who share his philosophy that healthcare ought to blend the best of ancient practices with modern medicine and a patient-centric bottom line.
“They have such a kindness. It just radiates from the place,” said local resident James “Jimmy” Clark, who marvels at the way Wellness Rx has transformed his hometown. “He’s onto something big. It’s so unique. What goes around in this world does come around. What he’s brought up here has changed it for the better.”
The pharmacy’s prescription to “treat all people equally” is a kindness contagion that presents opportunities to sincerely promote holistic wellness over continued medication when possible. As a pharmacist, Mr. Ullman recognizes that sometimes drugs have a place. The ultimate goal is to help patients avoid overuse of pharmaceuticals. Sometimes that means using herbal remedies, supplements, and other tools to boost the immune system.
The pharmacy doesn’t meddle in the doctor-patient relationship and never suggests alternatives to prescriptions.
It does, however, acknowledge that Americans have a problem with drug use, including pharmaceuticals, and it offers addiction and other mental health- based services to help with it. This philosophy is born out of Mr. Ullman’s first job as a pharmacist after college where he was refilling prescriptions in situations where people could have benefited from other resources to stop using pharmaceuticals long term.
“I couldn’t believe I had no incentive not to fill a prescription,” he said. “I thought, ‘This is a very crazy model…how can I keep filling these prescriptions without working on any other intervention?’”
Many medications are never intended for long-term use, but overworked doctors lack resources for alternatives and patients are overlooked. Traditional pharmacies also suffer in the burdened healthcare system, losing money on three of every 10 prescriptions because of low reimbursements, Mr. Ullman said.
That’s why most drug stores are shutting down in small town America. None of that concerns Mr. Ullman, who isn’t afraid to step into the circumstances of a troubled industry and find something that works better. It’s what he did when launching HMOs, which flipped the switch on the pay-for-services model of healthcare.
The pay-up-front membership model—intended to incentivize staying well—worked until policy, greed, and even unknown factors led to the demise of many HMOs. Promoting wellness care, Mr. Ullman said, can still work, and he believes pharmacies can be the conduit.
Though he is business-minded, Mr. Ullman’s success might be rooted more in his humble curiosity and an upbringing of overcoming trauma. Seeing people beyond their present symptoms, and understanding how past hurts can become woven into the fabric of physical health, are gifts that allow him to serve with deep reverence.
Growing up, Mr. Ullman bore witness to his mother being physically abused, and he experienced homelessness when he ran away at 14. He didn’t become bitter but instead used his career to facilitate healing out of his holistic perspective of disease and illness. Early in his career, for instance, he helped open a women’s domestic violence shelter.
Simple consideration for mental well-being is a sort of charm that Wellness Rx embodies in every single patient’s experience. It took Mr. Clark, a retired U.S. Army Airborne sergeant, by surprise. He was injured in his 76th jump when his parachute malfunctioned—a moment that shaped not only his physical health but also his outlook on life.
Now a grandfather, Mr. Clark is overcoming health struggles like a recent heart attack, alcoholism, and pneumonia because the mental health coach at Wellness Rx is helping him connect physical symptoms to his past trauma. It’s bringing a sort of relief for him to unpack the past and find joy in the present moment. The staff is working with him on strategies for replacing unhealthy coping habits like drinking and smoking.
It’s no wonder, Clark said, that Mr. Ullman is so beloved. “The community came together for him. You don’t see a lot of that these days,” he said.
Without support, Wellness Rx couldn’t have sprouted up in a pharmacy desert and survived. It’s fueled by grants, fundraisers, and volunteers. The model required saving two years of operating expenses before opening the doors.
Mr. Ullman said insurance revenue accounts for about 73 percent of the budget. Additional funds are raised from private foundations, grant writing, and low-interest loans.
“The beauty of the model is that it gets easier over time to achieve sustainability and permanence,” he said. “As a proud capitalist, I’m asking those in the community, especially those with second homes, to take a write-off to help tomorrow’s kids and those in need. It’s a feel-good story.”
Wellness Rx also relies on many volunteers, just as a nonprofit hospital does. Mr. Ullman’s vision casting attracted volunteers and partnerships with those who see the value in a community taking care of its own. Besides natural products, Wellness Rx features partners who offer mental health services, massage, energy healing like reiki, acupuncture, nutrition counseling, and light therapy.
These complementary products and services are an essential component to the financial survivability of the pharmacy, which looks more like a welcoming home than a sterile drug dispensary. Prescriptions are hidden out of sight and customers are greeted with wooden shelves of health tinctures interspersed with cozy couches.
The best part of the environment, though, might be the casual, easygoing conversations offered up by the people who are there to serve. None of it is inconsequential.
“I felt the environment was critical…everything is in an apothecary feel,” Mr. Ullman said. “It gives you a look and a feel that I wanted to have for me to do my best work but to be able to service individuals.”
Top Natural Products
What are the best sellers in a nonprofit community apothecary style pharmacy?
- Natural mineral water eye wash—used in all mucus membranes often bought to support nasal issues and sore throats.
- Mushroom and elderberry tinctures—taken for boosting the immune system.
- Colloidal silver—available nasally for sinus and respiratory infections or topically as a skin cream to be used on a short-term basis for killing bacteria, fungus, and viruses.
- Curcumin/turmeric capsules—taken for chronic inflammation.