Fifth-generation Dunbar native Dr. Shareka McIntosh knows her Fort Myers community’s medical needs firsthand. Neighbors and church friends would constantly go to her for medical advice. She came to recognize the added risks for her friends and family, who were living in a pharmacy desert—an area where residents have limited access to transportation and no pharmacies within half a mile. In Dunbar, the nearest drug store was 2.5 miles away. Without easy, affordable access to medications, people skimp on doses, and their conditions worsen or new ones can develop. COVID-19 further complicated matters. “Pharmacies have served as the greatest point of accessibility for vaccination, testing, and treatment during the pandemic,” adds McIntosh, a former pharmacist at the Lee County Veterans Affairs Clinic in Cape Coral. “The farther people have to go to get these services, the less likely they are to receive them.”
To fill the gap, McIntosh opened Sozo Wellness Pharmacy last July. She goes beyond filling orders, getting to know her clients’ medical histories and lifestyles, and calling their doctors to explore affordable prescriptions. More recently at Sozo—derived from the Greek term for ‘salvation’ or ‘to be healed’—she administered free COVID-19 tests and gave patients care packages with thermometers and vitamins through the nonprofit arm of the pharmacy until her $30,000 grant from LeeCARES was exhausted. Looking ahead, she plans to use the nonprofit to offer medication assistance, health education and holistic therapies, like massage and group acupuncture. She does all this knowing that a pharmacy can go far beyond dispensing meds—it can be a nexus for preventative care and healing.