Opinion open letter

An open letter on the closing of the MIT Pharmacy

On March 9, an email went out to those who have filled a prescription at the MIT Pharmacy (located inside the MIT Medical building) in the past year. This email announced that the pharmacy will close on April 29. It also stated that “no new prescriptions will be accepted at the MIT Pharmacy after March 25,” and that “existing refills will be processed until April 8.” In addition, the reduced prescription copayment rates offered by the MIT Pharmacy will only continue at other in-network pharmacies until Dec. 31, 2022. This decision, which will negatively impact staff, students, faculty, and other MIT affiliates, was made without adequate input from the MIT community at large.

The email links to an FAQ page on the MIT Medical website. It lists the reason for the closure as a reduced customer base during the pandemic due to hybrid schedules and an increase in use of alternatives, including mail order and same-day delivery services for prescriptions. This does not take into account that hybrid work schedules for staff are not guaranteed to be permanent. After only one semester of hybrid schedules in Fall 2021, followed by an Independent Activities Period in January 2022 during which institute administrators encouraged staff to work from home as much as possible, closing the pharmacy because of hybrid schedules is not justified. It is not known how much longer hybrid work will continue, and essential staff as well as students, retirees, and others who are not on this kind of schedule were not even considered.

The pharmacy staff themselves were informed of the closing only the night before this email went out. These staff members were not consulted at all during the actual decision-making process. A pharmacy staff member at MIT Medical who wished to remain anonymous said this about the pharmacy’s closing:

“There are no Pharmacy people, for lack of a better term, in MIT Medical management and decisions about how to run the pharmacy and ultimately to close it and how to close it, were made without our input. As a result of the rush of it all there are, unsurprisingly, a lot of unexpected problems presenting themselves to management. The Pharmacy, as the place drugs are received and distributed through Medical, provides a lot of connective tissue that is being removed and replaced with two pharmacist positions yet to be filled or trained. It is unclear if they intend to hire any extant Pharmacists from here, not that how they have treated folks here engenders a lot of trust.

Morale in Medical in general seems very bad, with people wondering who is going next. It is very hard to work for some folks who are willing to mislead you while setting up to get rid of you…. It feels pretty bad. There has been a huge outpouring of support from our patients, and we deeply appreciate it…. It is nice to know you made a difference and MIT Pharmacy itself was one of the best, most wholesome places I have ever worked.

It feels like…Medical [leadership] was handed a beautiful antique watch and, rather than learn how it works and how to maintain it, banged it against the desk a few times and, fundamentally incurious, tossed it away.”

The news of the closure was slow to trickle through the wider MIT community, as some staff who use the MIT Pharmacy regularly did not even receive the initial announcement. As the news did start to circulate, many staff members, ourselves included, were shocked to hear about the abrupt announcement, the treatment of the pharmacy staff, and the loss of easy access to a pharmacy just as more people are expected to return to campus. Concerned staff members wondered why the broader MIT community was not consulted and if there was a way to stop the closure on such a tight timeline, pointing to the still-in-development MIT Values Statement that declares a commitment to collaboration, transparency, and trust in each other as pathways to solve problems.

Questions around the closure also brought to light additional issues about how the decision was made and who had a say in the process. Neither pharmacy staff nor pharmacy customers were asked for feedback. The decision came down as final without much communication or clarity about why the community who uses this campus resource was not made aware that a closure was even under consideration, much less imminent. MIT has a wealth of eager community members ready to solve major community problems. The sheer number of task forces, committees, working groups, and employee resource groups on department, lab, center, school, and institute-wide levels testify to a deep commitment to preserving what makes MIT so exceptional and making it an even better place to study, research, live, and work. 

The closure of an on-site pharmacy may initially seem minor when there are retail pharmacies to be found on every corner (though still not in Kendall Square), but it does prompt the question of: What’s next? What will be the next convenience, perk, benefit, or job to be abruptly ended?

Sharona Bollinger
Marketing and Admissions Assistant in the MIT Leaders for Global Operations Program

Ximena Hasbach
Alliance Program Coordinator for the Department of Material Science and Engineering