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For people who can’t afford prescriptions, St. Vincent de Paul provides a lifeline


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John Burger - published on 09/27/19

Charitable pharmacies operating under the St. Vincent de Paul Society help those in most need maintain their health.

Many people know the St. Vincent de Paul Society as a place where, like the Salvation Army and Goodwill, they can drop off unwanted clothes and household items that can be resold in their thrift stores.

Largely unknown, however, is that many chapters of the society, named for the 17th-century French priest who devoted his life to care for the poor, operate charitable pharmacies.

Around the country, the pharmacies help uninsured low-income adults fill prescriptions for free, learn about their medications and find support for getting effective treatment for chronic and acute medical conditions. The St. Vincent de Paul pharmacies are state-licensed and stock many medications to treat common conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, infections and other illnesses. (Normally, no narcotics are stocked or provided.) A managing pharmacist oversees the program, with well-trained volunteers.

In Madison, Wisconsin, for example, the St. Vincent de Paul Charitable Pharmacy volunteers include students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Pharmacy School.

In Cincinnati, the charitable pharmacy fills about 60,000 prescriptions a year and is now part of a new $7 million, 36,000-square-foot St. Vincent de Paul Center providing a range of emergency assistance measures helping with basic necessities.

“Ohio passed a law allowing physicians to extend prescribing rights to pharmacists,” said pharmacy manager Rusty Curington. “With close partnership with the Good Samaritan Free Health Center, they’re asking us to develop this collaborative practice agreement. And the idea as it relates to diabetes: we could change an insulin dose, to help them get to better control. We could add therapy, to help prevent a heart attack or stroke. That means we’re able to provide care when and where a patient really needs it.”

The pharmacies rely on donations from pharmaceutical companies. At the one in Dallas, the drugs are sourced from the Dispensary of Hope, a national clearinghouse for donated prescription medications in Nashville.

“Many lower-income individuals can’t afford prescription meds and, if they have chronic health conditions, they may not be able to be steadily employed,” Henry Hermann, the pharmacy’s managing director, told DCEO Healthcare. “So, we’re trying to provide the dignity of access to prescription medicines for the uninsured who desperately need them.”

Hermann was instrumental in opening the Dallas pharmacy, and part of that effort included lobbying for a change in Texas law. Until 2007, it prevented charitable pharmacies and clinics from accepting the donated meds from pharmaceutical companies and distributors, nursing homes and other medical clinics.

At the pharmacy in Madison, St. Vincent de Paul’s work is also providing a side benefit—assisting in the training of future pharmacists.

“Our goal here is to teach student how to provide care with care,” said managing pharmacist Yolanda Tolson-Eveans.

Students take clients’ blood pressure at each visit and talk with them about how they are doing, she told the Cap Times. “We consider things beyond medication. We look at social determinants, we look at housing and other things that are impacting their ability to be well.”

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