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Canada’s first pharmacy for women opens next month thanks to a UBC community service learning project - photo courtesy of UBC SALA
Canada’s first pharmacy for women opens next month thanks to a UBC community service learning project - photo courtesy of UBC SALA

UBC Reports | Vol. 54 | No. 9 | Sep. 4, 2008

A Friendly Neighborhood Drugstore: UBC Students Design a Pharmacy for Women in Canada’s Toughest Neighborhood

By Basil Waugh

Call it a paradox of the Downtown Eastside.

The eight-block area has more pharmacies per capita than any other Vancouver neighborhood, but many female residents still leave to get their prescriptions filled.

According to Magali Bailey, a UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA) graduate student, it boils down to a problem of design. The prescription, says Bailey and others from the neighborhood, is Canada’s first social enterprise pharmacy for women, which opens its doors next month thanks to the design and fundraising efforts of 13 UBC students.

“Most area pharmacies are better at dispensing methadone than health information, because that is how they have been designed,” says Bailey, noting that the jump in pharmacies coincided with the city’s heroin-replacement program launched in 1997.

With barred windows and pharmacists behind plexiglass, Downtown Eastside (DTES) pharmacies are worlds away from London Drugs or Shoppers. Most are small and provide little privacy to discuss health issues, a major drawback as pharmacists are many residents’ primary -- and sometimes only -- link to the health care system.

“Many residents, especially women, looking for health information say they find existing pharmacies to be increasingly inhospitable,” says Bailey, who has been studying DTES pharmacies since 2007, when her professor Inge Roecker was approached by the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Women’s Health Collective (VWHC) to design a centre for women’s health and wellness.

The result is Lu’s Pharmacy for Women, a culmination of SALA’s first community service learning (CSL) initiative. CSL is a teaching model that offers students opportunities for civic engagement through volunteer service and academic work. UBC’s goal is to engage 10 per cent of the university’s students in CSL each year.

Named after 80-year-old VWHC volunteer Lucette Hanson, Lu’s is scheduled to open in October at 29 Hastings St. at Carroll in the 100-year-old storefront of a single room occupancy (SRO) hotel owned by Vancouver’s Central City Foundation.

Renovated largely with sustainable and recycled materials, the 3,000-square-foot facility will be operated by the VWHC as a social enterprise, meaning the profits from the pharmacy will fund the non-profit organization’s social programs.

“Lu’s will provide a safe, respectful environment for women residing in the Downtown Eastside and other women in the Vancouver,” says Sonya Parmar of VWHC. “UBC Architecture’s contribution to the project has been immense, from their beautiful design to fundraising and building support for its construction.”

Women will be able to have their prescriptions filled and get advice from a pharmacist, access primary care from a nurse practitioner, buy over-the-counter products, access health information and workshops, and use the space to meet. Later this year, a second phase will open, which will house other health care services, including a naturopath.

“The biggest challenge was designing a space that was secure but welcoming,” says Bailey, noting many women living on the DTES are at risk of violence from men, and pharmaceuticals are often targeted for theft due to street value.

To achieve this balance, a theme of cherry blossoms runs through Lu’s, from its security gate to its interior of reclaimed wood (donated by UBC’s Wood Sciences Centre), which has been dyed pink with beet juice. “Cherry blossoms bloom every spring in Vancouver and are a Japanese symbol of renewal,” says Bailey. “They are also feminine, which help to make it a ‘gendered space.’”

Roecker says the project has been an invaluable learning experience for her students. “They now have hands-on, practical experience working with multiple stakeholders, contractors, city building permits, granting agencies and donors,” she says, noting the students raised $115,000 to make the project a reality, including a $50,000 Vancity green building grant and $25,000 from the City of Vancouver. “These are things architecture firms are going to really notice when they begin their professional careers.”

“It has been really satisfying, first to have our ideas embraced, and now to have what we dreamed up actually built,” says Bailey. “Design really shouldn’t be seen as an elite thing. Good design should be for everyone.”

To donate to the project, visit: www.givemeaning.com/project/pharmacy.

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Video Podcast

Watch a video podcast of Magali Bailey, a UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA) graduate student, comment on the Lu’s Pharmacy for Women. (Requires the free iTunes Player)


Last reviewed 23-Sep-2008

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