Kentucky free pharmacy serves low-income patients

February 1, 2009

Volunteer pharmacists help a free pharmacy in rural Kentucky serve low-income patients.

Key Points

A charitable pharmacy in rural Kentucky is expanding to include more pharmacist visits to low-income patients in local hospitals.

Faith Community Pharmacy in Crescent Springs, Ky., already helps more than 3,000 underinsured and uninsured patients monthly with free prescriptions, but there is a demand for expanded services in this area of Northern Kentucky near Ohio.

"You can drive 50 miles from here and people don't have running water or electricity. Visitors have said they had no idea there were poor people like this in America," said Rosana Aydt, RPh, director of Faith Community Pharmacy.

"It is becoming apparent that [some low-income] patients take the ambulance to the hospital, and don't take medication after that," Aydt said.

In a newly established procedure, when uninsured or underinsured patients are admitted to St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Edgewood, Ky., nurses ask them, "Are you going to need help with your prescription medications when you are released?" When a patient says yes, the hospital notifies Aydt; either she or other volunteer pharmacists will conduct an interview to determine the patient's medication history, income, and medication needs.

Medications needed are typically those that treat diabetes and heart conditions, according to Aydt. The free pharmacy obtains some medications through grants for generic drugs and some at cost from Richie Pharmacal, a wholesale company in Glasgow, Ky. In addition, manufacturer AstraZeneca donates some medications.

Aydt, a pharmacist for independent pharmacies and the Kroger supermarket chain for several years, first encountered the idea of a free pharmacy while she was on medical leave in the late 1990s. She was undergoing chemotherapy treatments for cancer when the concept was presented to her by Vince Bessler, president of the Society for St. Vincent DePaul in Crescent Springs. "Vince saw it work at St. Vincent DePaul in Baton Rouge, La., and wondered if we could make it work in our diocese," Aydt said.

In 2000, after a visit to the Baton Rouge pharmacy, Aydt petitioned the Kentucky Board of Pharmacy to allow physicians to dispense their pharmaceutical samples, a practice that was against board regulations at the time. In addition, Aydt set up Faith Community Pharmacy as a nonprofit organization and wrote grant proposals seeking support for the pharmacy to receive generic medications.

After the pharmacy board agreed to allow physicians to dispense samples and a board of directors for the nonprofit organization was assembled, the free pharmacy opened its doors in 2002. Two local pharmacists offered to donate their time two days a week and have been with the free pharmacy ever since.

Last year, the pharmacy helped approximately 739 patients and dispensed more than 23,000 prescriptions. "Each patient takes an average of five prescriptions, and each one costs right around $65," Aydt said.

In the future, she hopes, the free pharmacy will expand to provide prescriptions that treat mental illnesses.

Christine Blank is a writer based in Orlando, Fla.