Pharmacist of the Year
Re-imagining his family-owned pharmacy as a wellness resource earns alumnus John Bellitti national recognition—as well as his customers’ appreciation.
Faced with the challenges of the modern-day pharmacy owner—new kinds of competition, new rules of reimbursement—alumnus John Bellitti doubled down on what independent pharmacies do best: going the extra mile for patients. He re-imagined HB Pharmacy in North Arlington as a point of care for the community, earning the loyalty of both old and new customers. He also earned their votes, out-balloting other finalists in the 2016 contest for Good Neighbor Pharmacy of the Year.
The award, presented by Good Neighbor Pharmacy, a nationwide consortium of 5,000 independently owned and operated pharmacies, recognized HB Pharmacy for both its community legacy and its service innovations. “We work hard at being part of the fiber of the community,” says Bellitti, who “grew up in” and now owns the pharmacy started by his father, Gaspar, in 1964. “We are focused on being a point of care, a health care destination that helps people get well and stay well by going beyond just filling prescriptions.”
Customers know they can turn to HB Pharmacy and its staff of 20 for personalized services such as custom compounding, one-on-one counseling, and medication adherence monitoring. “It’s a great comfort when you know that a pharmacist is giving your elderly mom or dad a call, reminding them to take their medicine or refill a prescription,” he says. HB Pharmacy also provides community outreach, such as free health screenings and monthly visits to local senior centers to advise on vaccinations and other timely healthcare topics.
“People appreciate the genuine care and sincere concern they receive from us,” says Bellitti, whose outside-the-box thinking extends to introducing a line of high-quality, pharmaceutical-grade nutritional supplements under the name Gaspar’s Best. Customers reciprocated with gratitude in the Good Neighbor Pharmacy contest, conducted over social media, sharing stories of how their neighborhood pharmacy made a middle-of-the-night emergency delivery or stayed open in a snowstorm to fill a prescription.
Staying relevant, says Bellitti, means moving in the same direction as the larger healthcare marketplace. “Pharmacies need to re-imagine their role as a wellness resource rather than a place to fill a prescription.” As a proud alumnus, he believes the same is true of pharmacy education. That’s why the expansion of William Levine Hall “is something I can really get behind,” says Bellitti, who served as the point person in rallying alumni of Delta Sigma Theta, a professional fraternity for Rutgers pharmacy students, to the cause. The group raised an impressive $100,000 to support the new building addition, which is now open.
“As pharmacy changes, we don’t want to fall behind what other schools are offering to their students,” he says, ticking off the new spaces that will help prepare students for success in today’s patient-based, collaborative approach to pharmacy. Simulated learning environments where students can practice consultations with patients or conduct case reviews with student colleagues from other disciplines “reflect what is going on in the real world,” he notes. “It’s a huge change—and a huge opportunity for pharmacy.”
The gift to the building fund is hardly a first for Delta Sigma Theta, points out Kerryn Loesner, director of development. Alumni of the fraternity are staunch supporters of the school, endowing a scholarship fund, sponsoring the annual alumni cocktail party, and, most recently, launching a game-day alumni tailgate party that will be back, by popular demand, on October 6, just in time for the Rutgers vs Illinois football game. “We are enormously grateful to John, his fellow board members, and the entire DST alumni community for everything they do for the school,” says Loesner.
For Bellitti, giving back to Rutgers feels as natural as carrying on the community legacy of his family-owned pharmacy. “Where I am today, doing good work, feeling like people benefit every day from the work I do—the two experiences that got me here are wonderful parents and a great education. I feel very strongly about supporting Rutgers and making it possible for other people to have the same opportunity.”