03/13/08 — WAGES can continue medication program

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WAGES can continue medication program

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 13, 2008 1:45 PM

Three months after being told funding had been cut, WAGES was given a reprieve this week to continue its medication management program.

WAGES -- Wayne Action Group for Economic Solvency -- was notified in December that grant money for the coming year was not renewed.

Staff scrambled to maintain services, with pharmacist Tommy Gibson volunteering his time to assist long-term patients in the interim.

"We knew that the funding was going to be cut off Dec. 31, so we cut back on the number of patients we were seeing and (taking) new patients," said Gibson, director of the program since June 2003.

Formed to help citizens in Wayne County unable to afford medication, it has primarily served the low income and uninsured population. An estimated 600 individuals have been assisted over the last four years, with more than $2 million worth of medication dispensed, Gibson said.

He can attest to the program's importance.

"To see these people when they come in, especially these folks who have no income except Social Security or a disability check, and taking $700 to $800 worth of medication a month, we were able to keep those folks on without having to stop coverage," he said.

This week's announcement -- that $40,000 had been received from North Carolina Health and Wellness Trust Fund and $25,000 was contributed by United Way of Wayne County -- will help keep the program afloat.

"We did not receive the grant from the N.C. Health and Wellness Fund in the initial cycle," said Dr. Marlee Ray, WAGES' executive director. "However, when they realized that that meant having to postpone or cancel the program, they asked (us) to continue pursuing and looking at things to continue. They have been able at this point to come back and reallocate the funding in that grant we originally applied for."

Then the local United Way stepped in. Director Steve Parr said the "special grant" of $25,000 was warranted in response to the "immediate need."

"In our most recent community needs assessment, affordable medication came out as one of the most important needs," he said. "Our board had no difficulty in saying, 'Let's provide this one-time grant for $25,000.'"

Parr said over the next three months, a game plan will be developed to address the findings of the county survey.

"We will be re-prioritizing what the most pressing needs and issues are in the community," he said. "We need to have the biggest impact ... We'll be changing the way that we do business in the new year, so that opens up the opportunity for programs such as this."

Dr. Ray said the United Way's contribution is a vital addition to the state funding.

"We're very excited to be able to continue this program," she said. "We think it's a tremendous support to the community and provides a very valuable service.

"Already having the program established, with a licensed pharmacist and staff, it really makes sense that we continue to provide the services."

At the same time, WAGES must offset the balance of its budget for the program, which is between $80,000-90,000 a year.

"We will be very actively looking at seeking alternative funding sources," Dr. Ray said. "We have enough funding to restart the program and probably continue for about a year."

The $65,000 received will provide enough cushion and time to seek additional funding, she added.

Dr. Ray said the ultimate goal would be to stabilize the medication program so that it's not so reliant on grant funding.

"There's definitely a community need and I think there's an understanding throughout the community," she said. "It's a matter now of us being able to access those specific resources and tap into them."

In the coming weeks, letters will be mailed out to area physicians notifying them to begin making referrals for former and new patients.

The program hours are 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Appointments can be made by calling Terry Davis, prescription assistance coordinator, at 734-1178, ext. 205.