MARINETTE — In an effort to provide low-income residents with free prescription medications and easier access to pharmaceutical services, Marinette has become the pilot city for a unique dispensary program.
The St. Vincent de Paul District of Marinette and the Twin Counties Free Clinic have teamed up with St. Vincent de Paul Charitable Pharmacy in Madison to create the new program that will serve eligible residents of Marinette and Oconto counties.
“The need is out there,” said Teresa O’Brien, director of the Marinette St. Vincent de Paul District. “Every day we see people who need assistance with their prescriptions.”
This spring, the three organizations launched the St. Vincent de Paul Community Outreach Dispensary, which acts as an approved remote dispensary site for free medications provided by the Madison Charitable Pharmacy.
To be eligible for the program, patients must have a valid prescription from an appropriate health care provider but no prescription drug coverage or insurance. Patients must also confirm residency in Marinette or Oconto County and be at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
According to Yolanda Tolson, manager of the Madison SVDP Pharmacy, the pharmacy, which opened in 2013, has seen the demand for its services wax and wane. After attending a clinic hosted by the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics in 2014, Tolson said patient awareness and accessibility became the focus of their attention.
“The association told us that there were about 30,000 people in Dane County that were uninsured,” Tolson said. “It didn’t make sense in terms of numbers. We thought, ‘Where are these patients?’ People didn’t know about us. So we worked on a more aggressive campaign to market our services.”
During this time, pharmacy operators brainstormed ways they could reach people throughout the state.
“We started thinking about the fact that we could create a hub system, where we have centralized pharmacies that could distribute to more remote areas through the state,” Tolson said. “If we had three or four hubs, we could potentially blanket the whole state with meds for folks who are uninsured and have access issues.”
O’Brien said the idea for a remote site in Marinette was presented to her in September 2015 by Ralph Middlecamp, Madison SVDP district CEO and executive director. Because of the city’s well-established free clinic and SVDP district, Marinette seemed an appropriate place to test the program.
“He asked me if we had a free clinic in town and if we would be interested in offering prescriptions,” O’Brien said. “I thought, ‘Well, by all means.’”
Jeanne Harper, vice president of the SVDP national board and overseer of the society’s north central region, said there is a large demand for this type of service in the area. She said many patients are unable to reach pharmaceutical services and must be visited at their homes.
“Home visits take place every day, Monday through Friday,” Harper said. “When this opportunity came up, it was immediately a ‘yes.’”
For its first year, the Marinette program is being sponsored and paid for by the Madison SVDP District. It is administered by the Marinette District and operated through the Twin Counties Free Clinic.
“It is through the generous support of the St. Vincent de Paul in Madison that we are able to offer this,” O’Brien said.
Patients can contact or visit the Marinette SVDP or Twin Counties Free Clinic to sign up for the service. Once a patient is proven eligible, scripts are collected by Twin Counties Free Clinic director, Kelly Christian, who sends them to the Madison pharmacy.
“I get the order faxed in on a Wednesday, and by Monday I will have a shipment at my clinic,” Christian said. “The following Wednesday is when pharmacists come and volunteer their time, and the patients come in to pick up their prescriptions at the clinic.”
Patients are provided one-on-one consultations with volunteer pharmacists to discuss their medications and other wellness issues. To ensure regular visits, prescriptions are only filled once a month and patients must be recertified every six months.
“For wellness or anything else that we are offering, we want to make sure we actually see the patients,” O’Brien said.
Until the program is further tested, the Community Outreach Dispensary is limited to 25 prescriptions per month. Tolson said if this program works in Marinette, they hope to expand with more pharmacies and remote dispensary sites.
“What we are doing doesn’t really exist yet,” Tolson said. “We are trying to prove our model works kind of retroactively.”
In addition to the prescriptions, O’Brien said a future goal is to offer things like high-blood pressure, glucose and wellness checks through the food pantry at St. Vincent de Paul.
Kelly McGuire, vice president and medical director of the Twin Counties Free Clinic, who also serves as Marinette SVDP district vice president, said that his involvement in both groups has let him see the potential of the program.
“One of the things that was exciting for me is that I wear both hats,” McGuire said. “I am really excited about the collaboration.”
O’Brien said this program is a great opportunity to focus each group’s efforts on a singular goal, which is to help those in need.
“I think it is a big step forward because a lot of us offer the same services, but working together, you make those services all the more powerful,” O’Brien said.