12/21/07 — Medication program loses grant funding

View Archive

Medication program loses grant funding

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 21, 2007 1:46 PM

A program begun four years ago to provide free medication to patients in need will shut its doors Dec. 31, after state officials announced this week funding was denied.

Pharmacist Tommy Gibson has directed the WAGES Medication Management Program since June 2003, sponsored by the Health and Wellness Trust Fund to help people in Wayne County unable to afford medication.

He said Wednesday that WAGES -- Wayne Action Group for Economic Solvency -- had been notified that grant money for the coming year had run out.

"Our funding has been shut down as of Dec. 31, so we will no longer be able to help people get free medication," he said.

The closest recipient of grant money for 2008 was in Kinston, given $40,000 to cover seven counties.

But while that could include neighboring Wayne County, the amount is insufficient, said Brownie Doss, director of WAGES "Meal on Wheels" program.

"It would really take about $100,000 for us to run the program for a year," she said Thursday.

This is the fourth round of funding since the program was introduced, she said.

The free assistance program dispenses medication to those unable to otherwise afford it, Gibson said, which makes it "a loss for county."

There is not another program like it, Ms. Doss said, leaving doctors and patients alike scrambling for a replacement.

"WATCH does something similar but they do it just for the people on their WATCH mobile," she said. WAGES has also worked with physicians' offices, trying to assist them in learning the computer program it uses.

"Some doctors' offices are helping patients (and) we access prescription assistance programs," she said. "They're very difficult to navigate."

The unexpected announcement comes on the heels of a survey that reported the importance of medical assistance in Wayne County.

"United Way just did a needs assessment and this was in the top five needs," Ms. Doss said.

She said provisions to supplement the program had not been made, since WAGES had received funding each of the previous three years.

"We just knew we were going to get this and then look for other sources," she said. "Since we didn't, we don't have a base of funding. We don't have any choice but to close it."

Letters will be sent to patients and physicians, notifying them of the closing, as well as information on how to access other programs on the computer and a toll-free number to call.

Ms. Doss estimated that during the past four years, the program has served close to 600 patients, distributing about $2 million in medications.

Unless something happens before the end of the year, though, the program will become a thing of the past.

"The Office of Rural Health -- which oversees it, but the money comes from the Health and Wellness Trust -- has told us to hold off a couple days sending out letters," she said.

They have acknowledged that it's an important service, Ms. Doss said, with many people reliant on it for medical needs ranging from high blood pressure and diabetes, to cholesterol and cancer treatment.

"Some of them are just things they can't live without," she said.

"It's not like a regular pharmacy. We order the medication for those people, so it's labeled and distributed to them."

But it's also been a personal service, thanks to the work of the program staff, especially Gibson, Ms. Doss said.

"It's been very comfortable for them to ask Tommy questions. He's wonderful with them," she said. "He makes sure what they're taking and when, checks for interactions of medications. He even calls their doctors and talks to them."

"It's really just a very wonderful program. I'm feeling very bad about its closing."