United Methodists Take Lead in Starting Free Pharmacy in Columbus, Ohio
by Elliott Wright
Columbus, Ohio, February 4, 2010--The United Methodist Church in West Ohio, working with community partners and with staff support from the denomination's mission agency, is opening a free pharmacy in Columbus, Ohio, to serve low-income persons who cannot afford needed prescription medication.
The Charitable Pharmacy of Central Ohio, set to open in mid-to-late February, is an initiative of the West Ohio Annual (regional) Conference of the church. It will operate in partnership with area hospitals, medical associations, health organizations, and foundations.
Located in the Livingston United Methodist Church on Livingston Avenue, the pharmacy has hired a licensed pharmacist, Allan Zaenger as executive director. The patient-services coordinator is Mariellyn Dunlap, a missionary through the Church and Community Workers program of the General Board of Global Ministries.
"The charitable pharmacy program is a creative and effective way for the West Ohio Conference and our partners to engage in ministry with the poor," said Bishop Bruce R. Ough, leader of the conference. He noted that ministry with the poor and improved health services are among the current mission focuses of The United Methodist Church. Bishop Ough is president of the General Board of Global Ministries.
The new pharmacy was called "good medicine" by an editorial in The Columbus Dispatch. The newspaper praised the church and those working with it for coming to the rescue of people with no prescription drug insurance or means to pay for medicine.
"When people must choose between giving their child food and filling a needed prescription, there's not much of a choice there," said Ms.Dunlap, the missionary assigned to the project. "We want to try to ensure that no parent in Franklin County has to make that decision."
Ms. Dunlap provided statistics and an anecdote that underscore the need for a free pharmacy. "The need is incredible and immediate," she said. "Between 2004 and 2008 in Franklin County, the number of adults who lack access to needed prescription drugs increased by 40 percent, to an astounding 146,553 people.
"When I was visiting a local free clinic, a man came in whose blood sugar was sky high. He knew it was dangerous, but said he couldn't afford all five medications his doctor prescribed. The one he could afford wasn't doing enough. That man is exactly who we're here to help."
Bishop Ough said that the pharmacy will "leverage the assets of the conference and its partners to assist those most at risk of not receiving adequate health care."
"The pharmacy speaks to Jesus' healing ministry and to the church's desire to promote the health of all persons in the community," said the Rev. Cyndy Garn, who is chair of the pharmacy's board of directors. Pastor of the Worthington United Methodist Church in Worthington, Rev. Garn said that the response from the community has been favorable.
Both Bishop Ough and Allan Zaenger noted that the Columbus pharmacy is modeled in part on a similar one in Cincinnati begun several years ago by the Roman Catholic Order of St. Vincent de Paul. The bishop said the facility at Livingston Church is the first in the conference's long-range vision of a network of free pharmacies.
Mr. Zaenger, 53, the pharmacist, explained that the pharmacy would initially operate for parts of three days per week and would increase to three eight-hour days per week. Livingston Church, located adjacent to downtown Columbus, is accessible from several highways and public bus lines.
The annual conference has an impressive line-up of partners in the Charitable Pharmacy of Central Ohio. One partner is Access Health Columbus, a nonprofit organization that does not provide services but seeks to improve local heath care by coordinating innovative solutions.
Franklin County and the Columbus Medical Association contributed $50,000 each to help get the pharmacy started. Hospital partners include the Ohio State University Medical Center, Mount Carmel Health System, Nationwide Children's Hospital, and OhioHealth, a faith-based, nonprofit that brings together a group of health-care facilities, including many with Methodist links. OhioHealth has strong ties to the West Ohio Conference. Columbus Foundation is also a Charitable Pharmacy supporter.
Ms. Dunlap also pointed to the importance of "a group of dedicated doctors, nurses, and pharmacists who are passionate about providing vital medications to low-income individuals who can't afford them."
Mr. Zaenger said he felt "called by the Holy Spirit" to undertake the work at the charitable pharmacy. "I had been in a consulting pharmacy situation for 20 years," he said. "I was at the stage of seeking what's next when I heard a presentation about the pharmacy at Access Health Columbus and expressed an interest in being involved. Things unfolded from there."
Inventory and Service
Inventory for the pharmacy will come from a variety of sources. "We will purchase some medications, especially generic drugs that tend not to cost too much," Mr. Zaenger said. "We will also be eligible for 'repository' medicine, that is, those that have been in the hands of long-care health facilities but never used; these are usually in individual doses and have never been out of the hands of health care professionals. Samples from doctors' offices can also be used by charitable pharmacies, and, fourth, there are some manufacturers' assistance programs."
Patients will go through an enrollment process to become qualified to receive prescription medication from the pharmacy.
The pharmacy will need to receive donations in order to meet its goal of providing much needed medicine to the persons to whom it makes commitments.
Church and Community Workers
Ms. Dunlap is one of several Church and Community Workers engaged in health-care ministries. Missionaries in this program serve low-income communities in the United States. For more information, go to Church and Community Workers.
Pharmacy FAQ (PDF, 2 pp., 610 KB)
Date posted: Feb 04, 2010