March/April 2022Vol. XXXIV No. 4

On Closing the MIT Pharmacy

Nazli Choucri, Ruth Perry, Nasser Rabbat

The stark statement announcing the closing of the MIT Pharmacy was like pouring concrete over green grass. Stunned silence – powerful and persistent – has been followed by disbelief, disappointment, and dismay. For almost everyone at MIT, the Pharmacy has long been a source of support and security, and a beacon of reliability and stability.

The disbelief is because the Pharmacy is so central to the wellbeing of the community, the staff always supportive and skilled and problem solving, and the entire “retail” responded to the needs of an appreciative community. We cannot point to any example where the Pharmacy was called to task on any issue – large or small. This is a distinctive feature of critical service to the MIT community.

The financial argument for closing the Pharmacy is that its use has gone down due to Covid; the pandemic pushed some to go for local rather than MIT “retail.” This logic implies a “continued-covid” path shaping a future away from valued services to the community as a whole.

The disappointment is due to the suggestion that closing the Pharmacy is an important imperative to the financial viability of MIT. That, in itself, is hardly credible given the state of the endowment, and the massive expansion of infrastructure associated with new research initiatives. Even if there were a logic – in comparative scale and scope – the decision to get rid of the MIT Pharmacy must be weighed against opportunity costs to the community as a whole. Moreover, it is hypocritical for such financial considerations to outweigh community needs in a formally “non-profit institution.”

We recognize that financial imperatives guide decisions at MIT. We know that none of this is easy. But we find it very difficult to understand the decision to close the MIT Pharmacy just as the campus was beginning to sense a post-Covid reality. Now one will have to schedule time and effort to be away from campus in search of other “retail” services.

The dismay is that the decision is poor and inconsiderate. The timing is particularly bad – we are all trying to recover from the Covid constraints – and the signals it sends about the value of worker-wellbeing are especially discouraging. We would have expected the MIT Pharmacy to be low on the list of “disposables” not only because of the great services it renders to the MIT community, but also because to many of us, it represents a reliable and friendly environment in a medical department that has been slowly turning impersonal and cold.

Closing the MIT Pharmacy should have been dealt with through deliberation and discussion. Perhaps we should have a measure of the trend in the use of the Pharmacy. If 50% or more of the people using the Pharmacy were going elsewhere, that might be grounds for discussion; but if only 5% or 10% of the community were turning to close-to-home retail, there is no need to close down the Pharmacy.

Perhaps this move signals that the next “retail” service to be terminated is MIT Optical. Or, perhaps, we are at the early stages of closing the MIT Medical Department entirely, and merging with the Mount Auburn Hospital. Whatever the future holds, discussion and deliberation are preferable to communication by pouring concrete over green grass.