For the nearly 300,000 people in Greater Cincinnati who either don't have health insurance or don't have enough of it, scraping together the money to see a doctor can be extremely difficult.
But finding the means to refill any drugs those doctors might prescribe is just about impossible.
That's a prescription that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP) hopes to fill by opening the state's first charitable community pharmacy.
The local SVDP chapter set out a year and a half ago to open a pharmacy that could give out samples and discounted drugs free of charge, according to Executive Director Liz Carter. She knew it could be done: A highly successful SVDP pharmacy in Crescent Springs, Ky., just celebrated its third anniversary.
But activists first had to convince Ohio to change its pharmacy regulations. Leadership Cincinnati, which took on the community pharmacy as its project last year, was instrumental in bringing the issue to state lawmakers, Carter says.
In January, Gov. Bob Taft signed into law a bill sponsored by State Rep. John White (R-Kettering) and State Sen. Robert Schuler (R-Sycamore Township).
Many of the Leadership Cincinnati graduates who set that stage decided to stay for the show by signing on as the community pharmacy's board of directors. Now they wait for the pharmacy board to write the newly legal regulations and for the physical space, located at 1125 Bank St., to be renovated to pharmacy specifications.
In the meantime, though, SVDP has implemented another aspect of its patient advocacy program, helping clients find free or discounted drugs on their own.
Many pharmaceutical companies offer assistance programs. But it's not uncommon to see clients who need 10 different medicines and a different pharmaceutical company manufactures each drug, so finding and navigating each company's assistance program can be overwhelming, Carter says.
"All of that health care system is so complex and it's so daunting," she says. "Imagine you're 70 years old, you've got a seventh-grade education and you have diabetes and all these other chronic illnesses. Go and figure out where to get your medication."
A partnership with Santa Maria's Jordan Health Program is allowing SVDP to address that need before the pharmacy is even in place. A worker from the Jordan Center Health Program comes once a week to help SVDP clients access those assistance programs.
"We envision this portion of the program just expanding and expanding," she says.
Carter hopes the community pharmacy is just one arm of an entire health care continuum that will catch those who are falling through cracks in the health care system.
Another part of Carter's mission is letting physicians know that SVDP is a resource. A partnership with the Academy of Medicine of Cincinnati is key to starting to publicize that information, she says.
"It doesn't do so much good to know where to get your medication if you don't know where to go for a follow-up with your physician," Carter says.
The entire patient advocacy program seeks to serve those who can't pay their medical bills but don't qualify for government assistance. It specifically targets the uninsured making 200 percent or less of the poverty level after medical costs are factored in.
To find out if you're eligible for the patient advocacy program, call 513-421-0602. To volunteer, call Liz Carter at 513-562-8841, ext. 10.
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