Healthcare Trailblazer Award

Charitable Pharmacy of Central Ohio
Livingston United Methodist church is a refuge of two kinds—spiritual and physical. For about 1,500 Columbus residents, the pharmacy housed inside it is a literal lifeline. The Charitable Pharmacy of Central Ohio has been dispensing free medications to central Ohio’s most vulnerable residents since 2010. Jenni Seifert, the pharmacy’s executive director, describes the pharmacy as a local answer to a national medication access crisis.

The Charitable Pharmacy started as a response to 2008 research that said 149,000 Franklin County residents were going without needed medications—medications for such life-threatening illnesses as hypertension, diabetes, mental health conditions or asthma. Seifert says while the Affordable Care Act and other measures have changed the healthcare landscape for the better since 2010, when the Charitable Pharmacy opened, problems remain. Just because a patient is able to see a doctor does not mean she is able to fill much-needed prescriptions. “They cannot get their medications, so they give up,” says Seifert. “A lot of what we try to do here is increase hope.”

Seifert tells a story about a woman who participated in a focus group conducted by the pharmacy. The woman described the agony of going to her doctor and receiving her prescriptions but being unable to fill them because she was uninsured. They would collect on her counter instead, where the woman would make mental notes of all she should be taking. Through the Charitable Pharmacy, the woman has finally received the medications she has memorized.

Seifert tells another story about a patient who was missing work at her part-time job for the local government because of a breathing disorder. She was connected with the Charitable Pharmacy and received the inhalers she desperately needed. Now, the woman is a full-time employee with insurance and no longer needs the services of the Charitable Pharmacy, which serves households at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline. For 2019 that equates to $24,980 for single people and $51,500 for a household of four. “That’s the ideal story,” Seifert says. “When we can truly become that bridge that allows that patient’s health to increase.”

One of the biggest tragedies, Seifert says, is Columbus’ vulnerable residents don’t feel part of the community. They are trying to be responsible with their health, but they are unable to access the necessary tools. “One of the hardest things we deal with is when people feel like they’re on the fringe,” she says. “They’re trying so hard but they are excluded from what is really the way we should treat people.”

The Charitable Pharmacy takes that into account with each patient visit. Seifert believes the pharmacy’s most innovative practice—and the one that has earned it national recognition—is the 20-minute consultation a resident pharmacist or student has with each patient to discuss how they are feeling about their medications, how to be successful in taking them and even how to get off some of them. The average eight medications each patient takes can be overwhelming.

The pharmacy’s supply of drugs comes from one local long-term care facility and national distributors like PharMerica and AmeriCare Home Health that make charitable donations. In 2018, the Charitable Pharmacy dispensed about $6.7 million in medications to central Ohio residents, most of whom were around the age of 60. The pharmacy is supported by 12 employees and over 300 volunteers. In addition to dispensing medications, the Charitable Pharmacy conducts and publishes research, and it offers placement to five interns per month and to pharmacists in residency through its experiential education model.

“It always, from the beginning, had an educational perspective, which I think is important in terms of educating pharmacists and social workers around the needs of folks who may not be the folks they come across during their normal training cycle,” says Jerry Friedman, a retired healthcare professional and health policy adviser for Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center who serves on the Charitable Pharmacy’s board. He recognizes the innovation happening at the pharmacy. Being involved with the organization “made a lot of sense to me, so I worked actively within [OSU’s] structure to get some buy-in from the university. It struck me that it was important,” he says.

The Charitable Pharmacy is looking to take its successful model elsewhere in the community, maybe sometime in 2019. Because the 2,000 square feet of space offered to the pharmacy by the church will be hard to replicate, the new space will be a spoke coming off of the Livingston Avenue hub. But the need is ever-present and the state of national healthcare doesn’t make things easy, says Seifert. “When we feel proud of what we do, we recognize that we are only affecting about 4 percent of the patients who reported not having prescription medications,” she says. “We and our board of directors [ask], ‘Are we effectively reaching the areas that need us?’ We are effectively getting patients here from those areas but there are certainly still patients that need our help.”

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The 2019 Healthcare Achievement Awards are Thursday, March 28, at The Estate at New Albany. Tickets are on sale now.