Someone San Diego Should Know: Dr. Usama Alkazaki

Dr. Usama Alkazaki owns and operates the successful Palm Care Pharmacy, which has 12 locations, and Palm Care Urgent Care. He is only 39 years old.

Born to a school principal mother and businessman father, he and his seven siblings, witnessed violence as part of life in his home country of Palestine. But his parents always reminded them to focus on success with compassion. This became ingrained in them – all of whom graduated college with medical degrees.

Soon after Alkazaki arrived in the United States in 2010, he worked as a pharmacist of a large drugstore chain in the county. He was so effective at increasing approval ratings among “difficult clients” that he was asked to manage additional branches. At one point, he was managing 21 of the chain’s pharmacies. Other location managers asked how he was able to do it. It came down to communication, he said.

Alkazaki listened and observed both staff and clients. He discovered that the issue wasn’t about difficult clients, it was about the lack of cultural understanding and staff’s inability to speak languages of the clients. Because of this, both the clients and staff became frustrated.

“When I started working here, I saw that Palestinians as well as other immigrant and refugee communities were not having their voices heard, even at the most basic — yet critical — moments that impacted their physical and mental health,” Alkazaki said. “I spoke the same language as many of the clients. That was one of the keys to building a better pharmacist-client relationship.”

Alkazaki left his job at the drugstore pharmacies and began Palm Care Pharmacy in 2016. He hired staff members who were able to provide services effectively, compassionately and with cultural respect toward the diverse immigrant and refugee clientele.

In 2017, he noticed an influx of asylum seekers, many of whom were Syrian and Iraqi, in East County. While they were waiting on the outcome of their asylum case, he discovered that they couldn’t work or access medical insurance or benefits.

“They would come to my pharmacies to have their prescriptions filled but found they could not afford the price of the drugs,” Alkazaki said. “Sometimes, I paid for their medication out of my own pocket. I could not turn them away because their health would suffer. When they had money, they came back as satisfied and loyal repeat customers.”

When Alkazaki, who lives in El Cajon, saw that 100 families needed food, he paid for food baskets for each of them. When people lacked transportation to their medical appointments, he drove them or arranged for rides. When the community approached him to help them due to lack of appropriate and accessible culturally competent medical services and behavioral health treatment for Middle Eastern communities, he coordinated services for them and, again, paid out of pocket.

“His life experiences from his home country are what make him successful here in San Diego,” said Lorna Delos Santos, a longtime community advocate for diverse populations. “He is kind-hearted. He collaborates with diverse communities in a way that improves their lives. As an immigrant from the Philippines, I was drawn to our shared desire to provide resources to anyone regardless of their background.”

Maya Al Salim, a pharmacy manager a Palm Care agrees. “He’s an inspiration to the staff and community. He could have easily fallen victim to the environment of violence that targeted his home country, and blamed challenges he has faced on that. But he did not. Instead, he motivates others to create their own path to success – including me. He reminds me to dream big and believe.”

About this series

Alicia DeLeon-Torres works at The Nemeth Foundation, which provides charitable support to community organizations. She also served as commissioner on the California Attorney General’s Civil Rights Commission on Hate Crimes and City of San Diego’s Commission on Gang Prevention and Intervention.

Someone San Diego Should Know is a column written by members of the U-T’s Community Advisory Board about local people who are interesting and noteworthy because of their experiences, achievements, creativity or credentials.

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