The Charitable Pharmacy of Central Ohio opened in February 2010 under the direction of then-Executive Director/Pharmacist Allan Zaenger as a joint project of the West Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church and what is now the Healthcare Collaborative of Greater Columbus. Its mission, then and now, is to increase access to prescription medications for low-income, uninsured, and underinsured Franklin County residents.
In 2021, The Columbus Foundation awarded a $50,000 grant to the Charitable Pharmacy of Central Ohio to provide operating support and the purchase of medication.
“For folks who lack health insurance, or whose insurance does not meet their prescription needs, the Charitable Pharmacy is the difference between having and not having, between being able to take or not take, life-saving medications as prescribed,” said Emily Savors, Senior Director, Grantmaking at The Columbus Foundation. “And when qualifying for free prescription medication from the Charitable Pharmacy, customers also receive valuable health education from pharmacists. Central Ohio is fortunate to have this nonprofit operating locally.”
“We serve nearly 2,000 people at any one point, but the table is bigger than that. We need more people to know we exist. We need to be able to reach all corners of Franklin County and embrace what this community is ready to hear—that health is our greatest wealth and that all people should have access to healthcare and medicine.”
R. TAYLOR REED, PHARMD, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CHARITABLE PHARMACY OF CENTRAL OHIO
We sat down with R. Taylor Reed, PharmD, Executive Director of the Charitable Pharmacy of Central Ohio, to find out more about the growth and changes the organization has seen in recent years.
What’s the mission of the Charitable Pharmacy of Central Ohio?
Charitable Pharmacy’s mission is that all people in Franklin County have access to healthcare and affordable medication. Our vision is for all people to have the health resources they need to thrive; by pairing medicine with health education, counseling, and coaching, along with referrals to other nonprofit resources that bridge around the social determinants of health. The value is in keeping people out of the hospital by getting them healthy and helping them understand their medicines and disease states.
Our clients are taking an average of eight medications. The diseases we see most frequently—heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and mental health issues— aren’t just a one-time thing. It’s not a co-pay once, it’s affording $10 times eight medicines monthly. This becomes an investment. Charitable Pharmacy helps bridge the gap so neighbors aren’t choosing between medicine or food, but can have both.
You are the only pharmacy in Franklin County that provides services at no charge and for up to a year. Why is that continuity important for those you serve?
Continuity of care is really important because the disease states we’re managing are chronic. It takes many months and a continual effort to help someone on their health journey. So, we’re partners with them for that duration. Patients qualify for a year at a time but can requalify. To qualify, you need to live in Franklin County and be at less than 200 percent of the poverty line by family size.
What types of medications do you provide, and to whom? Do you serve all ages? How does a client find out about you?
We are a full-service pharmacy that provides all types of non-narcotic medications. Nine out of 10 of the patients we see have high blood pressure. Sixty percent have diabetes and 40–50 percent suffer from a mental illness. A third of our patients need inhalers for airway disease. But all medicines are options for patients, and we work to streamline care so patients have the simplest regimen possible to reach their health goals.
The biggest referral source is from physicians. Too many people come to us after going into the hospital suffering a heart attack, for example. They are medically stabilized, and then as they step down they need to start a number of medicines and come to the realization that they aren’t going to be able to afford them.
Sadly, too many in Franklin County meet our qualification guidelines and no one should go without medicine for lack of ability to pay. My hope would be that all people know we exist so we can remove any stigma that comes with seeking help. The right to thrive should be one we all embrace.
What is the Medication Therapy Management model and how is it different than other charitable options in Ohio?
Medication Therapy Management (MTM) embraces the fullness of what a pharmacist is trained to do. Pharmacists do more than count medicines. They have a deep understanding of disease states and how medications work and are trained to educate, counsel, and coach patients on their health journey. MTM is just that, leaning into the health education that comes with medicine so the patients get to the goals they have around their health.
How did COVID-19 impact your ability to connect and provide services to your clients? How did your organization evolve to meet that ongoing challenge?
COVID-19 changed everything for everyone. If there’s a silver lining as we emerge from the global pandemic, it’s this—we know health is our greatest wealth; it’s interconnected for all of us, and without it the world is scary.
The pharmacy saw a huge surge in volume and need. We grew 40 percent almost overnight. We didn’t have to close our doors, but we had to change our model to meet the need and follow COVID-19 guidelines. We grew from filling about 70,000 prescriptions in 2019 to over 100,000 in 2020. We went from seeing patients in person to having to see them curbside and talk to them on the telephone. We had to navigate care in a different way. For patients who live at the margins and are vulnerable, that was even more challenging than it was for the broader community. That trend hasn’t receded, and we’re continuing to grow.
Going forward, we’re going to embrace the best practices we learned during COVID. That’s a hybrid model that meets people where they are.
In September 2021, you opened a second location in South Linden. Why did you choose that neighborhood to expand to, and how has it impacted your work?
We chose Linden because the data said this is where we’re needed most. Linden has some of the poorest health statistics, not just in this county, but in the state. We’ve learned that it takes hard work to build trust, undo historic past wrongs, and share an idea that some might feel is too good to be true. This idea is sincere around allowing people to feel seen and heard and valued. The power of that is something we’ve taken away as an incredible lesson of our work.
The opportunity in Linden presented not only to have the pharmacy, but a free produce market as well. We published the data that 66 percent of our patients were reporting food insecurity when asked by our social worker. By co-locating a pharmacy plus a market together, we have an opportunity to educate that ‘Food is Medicine’ and connect patients to nutritious food and the right eating options—that helps us at a holistic level get ahead of these chronic disease states. And that begins to set the stage where we can more fully realize this mission around health for all people.