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Texas’ First and Only Public Charitable Pharmacy Is Going Statewide

In less than three years, St. Vincent de Paul's pharmacy has dispensed more than 32,000 prescriptions to North Texans.
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St. Vincent de Paul launched the only charitable pharmacy that serves the public in the spring of 2018, and now the nonprofit is preparing to expand and serve the entire state.

Since the pharmacy launched, the rate of uninsured residents in Texas has increased, growing the need for the service it provides. Texas is the state with the highest rate of uninsured residents in the country, which means that medication must often be paid for out of pocket for many residents. Around one in five Texans is uninsured, and one third live on less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line, or $25,520 for one person. “With COVID-19, jobs are lost, income is lost, and insurance coverage is lost,” says Henry Hermann, managing director of the pharmacy. So the current situation is even more dire. Our big idea is for the St. Vincent De Paul pharmacy to dispense free prescription medications to every Texas resident who qualifies for service, and we will mail those prescriptions to their homes.”

If someone missed taking their medication, they often end up back in the emergency room, one of the most expensive ways to receive care. According to the National Institutes of Health, not taking prescribed medications costs between $100 and $300 billion each year. Up to 10 percent of all hospital admissions for elderly adults, and between 25 and 50 percent of medication treatment failures can be attributed to missed medications. The American Heart Association says that missed medication is the cause of about 125,000 preventable deaths every year. 

Hermann was introduced to St. Vincent by D Magazine founder Wick Allison more than 20 years ago, and he was taken by the organization’s approach to service. Unlike other charitable pharmacies connected to clinics, the St. Vincent de Paul model is freestanding, meaning patients from any provider can send their medications to be picked up there for free, given the patient qualifies. In three years, the pharmacy has provided 32,000 prescriptions at a value of $6.4 million to 1,700 different patients. If the patient doesn’t have health insurance and the family lives below 200 percent of the poverty line and has a valid prescription, they can qualify to receive their medications there. The pharmacy receives 75 percent of its medicine as donations from pharmaceutical companies and has supplies for chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes, behavioral health, and other common medications. It doesn’t supply controlled substances. 

After a couple of years of rapid growth in its Vickery Meadow location, leaders at St. Vincent de Paul are hoping to expand services to send medications via mail to patients in need around the state. The growth would allow the pharmacy to serve more Texans without incurring the costs of additional brick and mortar facilities. The organization is undertaking a $3 million fundraising campaign to help with the expansion. The pharmacy will model itself existing St. Vincent de Paul statewide mail delivery pharmacies in other states around the country. In South Carolina, the model fills around a million prescriptions each year. 

The nonprofit is beginning to test the mail-order pharmacy model with regions in North Texas. As they expand, the pharmacy hopes to build on relationships it has with Healing Hands, Baylor Scott & White Health, Parkland Health, and Hospital System, and Hope Clinic to expand beyond the region, perhaps partnering with other federally qualified health clinics that serve patients who qualify. “Distribution is a key aspect of that, and there’ll be costs associated with that,” says St. Vincent de Paul of North Texas CEO Michael Pazzaglini. “We’re trying to figure out the best model keeping costs within a reasonable range of affordability. A hospital system model that covers multiple territories and being able to work with those hospital systems is another way for us to do these expansions in a natural fashion.”

St. Vincent de Paul of North Texas is part of the national nonprofit network that includes 100,000 trained volunteers, or Vincentians as they call themselves. It provided more than 12.5 million hours of service in 2018, helping more than 5.4 million people with financial and other assistance at a value of $1.1. billion. An impressive 91 percent of every dollar donated goes directly to the community being served, and for every dollar’s worth of pharmaceutical donations, it provides $9 of value to society. 

The pharmacy is also conducting a study with Hope Clinic in Garland to quantify its impact, track patients, and measure outcomes of those who receive consistent medication. “We think that will tell a very valuable story,” Hermann says. “Which we’re going to share with others.”

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