North Texas Volunteer Group Expands Eligibility For Their Free Community Pharmacy
For millions of Texans without health insurance, prescription medication can be unaffordable. But one North Texas volunteer group is trying to fill the gap.
Michael Pazzaglini is the CEO of the North Texas branch of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, an organization that offers financial and emotional support to people in need across the region.
"The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is around to serve the needs of those who are lacking things like food or money to pay their utility bills," he said.
The organization also runs a pharmacy that fills prescriptions for free.
"Often, as our volunteers go out into the field and visit the homes of the people we serve, we find that there's an underlining cause to their needs," he said. "When it comes to our pharmacy — why we created it — what we were learning is that people weren't taking their medications. They weren't taking them because they can't afford them."
Without their medications, Pazzaglini said, the people St. Vincent de Paul typically serve become sick and they lose their jobs or incur costly hospital bills. That's why the organization started its community pharmacy in 2018.
Texas has both the highest number and the highest percentage of uninsured residents in the nation.
"We looked at researchconducted by the Urban Institute in 2018, which showed about 4.1 million people in Texas who were uninsured and living below the poverty level," he said. "We knew there was a great need for a stand-alone pharmacy."
Pazzaglini's branch has been busy since they opened. But they've been especially busy since the pandemic began.
“We [gave away] about $3.4 million in value of medications and about 17,000 or so 30-day prescriptions," said Pazzaglini. "This year, we’re on track to do 35,000 prescriptions. A doubling, essentially.”
Pazzaglini says the increase in demand is tied to the thousands of jobs lost during the pandemic. But he notes Texas was struggling to meet health care needs even before COVID-19. He says it's important to address the root causes of poverty.
“If we can keep people healthy, guess what? They don’t fall into that cycle of poverty or the cycle of debt. They are not dependent upon the services of others for their emergency assistance.”
The St. Vincent de Paul Pharmacy recently renegotiated agreements with suppliers to provide more free prescriptions to an even broader set of people.
"We're just scratching the surface with our pharmacy, but that's why we're expanding eligibility. We've moved from individuals having to be 200% below the poverty level to helping those who are 300% below," he said.
Pazzaglini says it’s one step toward a goal of helping all those in need.
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