Special to the Hellenic News of America
Sandy Tzaferos remembers going with her Greek immigrant parents to the doctor to translate the visit.
She did the same for other members of the Greek community living in Hammonton, New Jersey.
Along the way, she got interested in medicine and pharmaceuticals.
“My dad has a diner. My mom had the pharmacy,” said her daughter, Nikoleta.
Today, Sandy is the founder and president of Medilink RxCare, LLC in South Jersey.
In 1991 Sandy graduated with a BS in Pharmacy from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science. She then worked in retail pharmacy right out of college and then got interested in Home Infusion. In 1994, she founded MediLink Homecare, Inc. In the meantime, Sandy obtained her PharmD degree in 2003.
“I remember her telling me how she loved mixing IVs, how she loved making that process of intravenous medication,” Nikoleta said.
Infusion therapies administer medication through an intravenous catheter. Back in the 90s Home Infusion was big business for HIV, Lyme disease and cancer patients. “She had some relationships with some key physicians who trusted the family and the company and what they were going to be doing. It worked out really well,” said Anne DiRenzo, Chief Marketing Officer for MediLink RxCare.
The company was a success, but Sandy was already looking ahead as she pursued a Doctorate in Pharmacy from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.
She received her doctorate in 2003, the same year Nikoleta was graduating high school.
By 2007, she was ready to launch MediLink RxCare, LLC. in Voorhees, NJ.
The new company is a full-service retail pharmacy that specializes in HIV medications.
The pharmacy opened its new location at 44 S. White Horse Pike in Hammonton.
Today, she’s president of MediLink RxCare while Nikoleta, a lawyer, is MediLink RxCare’s Chief Operating Officer, joined by Anne DiRenzo as Chief Marketing Officer.
COVID and the vaccine
Like everywhere else, COVID-19 changed how MediLink RxCare did business but also provided opportunities to help.
Last week, MediLink RxCare’s employees gave out their 1,000th vaccination.
“For our small team, that’s a big accomplishment. We’re very proud of that,” Nikoleta said.
MediLink RxCare is only one of six independent pharmacies in New Jersey handing out the COVID-19 vaccine.
The smaller pharmacy actually helps with concerned seniors, who may have trouble making appointments online.
“We answer the phones. We speak to them. They know us. They know the family. They’re very comfortable with MediLink RxCare so it makes it a nice experience for them,” Anne said.
They vaccinate about 60 people a day, then get to 200 more once a month when they set up a Saturday vaccine clinic.
To help those afraid to leave their homes, MediLink RxCare provides same-day home medication delivery.
“Patients started panicking. They didn’t want to come into the pharmacy,” Nikoleta said.
The company also offers pouch packaging so patients that have to take a lot of medicine can get it pre-sorted into morning doses, evening doses, etc.
A little history
Sandy Tzaferos was born in Greece, from the Thessaloniki area, but her family emigrated to Hammonton when she was 6.
The town had a large clothing factory, which drew Greek and Italian immigrants from the 1950s through the 1970s.
“That’s how my mom’s parents came here because my grandfather, who was a tailor, saw an ad to work at a suit factory. Nikoleta said.
Sandy met and married George Tzaferos, who came from Evia, Greece, but settled in Hammonton to run a diner, The Silver Coin, with his brother Gus.
“My dad didn’t want to travel anymore. He was in the merchant marines for a long time and the opportunity came up for him to join his brother here,” Nikoleta said.
George still operates the diner, located, appropriately, next to MediLink RxCare’s Hammonton pharmacy
Filling a need
Sandy created MediLink RxCare because of a need for a focused specialty pharmacy that could work with a large number of HIV and Hepatitis C patients.
“One physician’s group had the largest population of HIV patients in the state and the physicians were looking for a dedicated pharmacy,” Anne explained.
MediLink RxCare strives to treat patients with care and compassion so there’s as little disruption to their lives as possible.
“It’s why we’ve been successful in what we’re doing because we have the right mindset. We put the patient first and make sure the patient’s all taken care of,” Anne said.
There’s a lot of Greek, Spanish and Italian spoken in the South Jersey area.
“My mother and I both speak Greek. Our employees also speak Spanish and Italian,” Nikoleta said. “We can service that population in a different way than the vaccine mega-sites can’t.”
It’s a matter of comfort for the South Jersey Greek community.
“They know us. We can speak the language. We can explain things to them in a way that they can actually understand,” Nikoleta said.
It goes back to the Greek idea of hospitality.
“We treat everybody like they are our own,” Nikoleta said.
The Greek emphasis on education has made Sandy a successful pharmacist and entrepreneur, Nikoleta a lawyer and COO, and her sister, Alexa, a surgeon at Inspira Health system in NJ.
The immigrant drive for success, to take risks, to not let anything get in their way is also part of who they are.
Looking ahead, MediLink RxCare continues to work with manufacturers and insurance companies to distribute new specialty medications to their patients in the most efficient way it can.
“Now we’re looking to target certain disease states, certain types of medications and look to the future to see what comes next,” Anne said.
One possibility is a new drug from biotechnology company Genentech, to slow the rate of Alzheimer’s.
The drug treats patients with early-onset dementia. The infusion hopefully will curtail the advancement of the disease.
“It’s going to be revolutionary,” Nikoleta said.