Health & Medicine

Faith Pharmacy fills more than prescriptions

Faith Pharmacy helps Leslie Black get the seizure medicine she can't pay for and can't afford to be without.

But, more than that, she feels cared for during her Saturday visits to the free, volunteer-operated pharmacy.

"It's the little things that they do," she said.

Like how the pharmacists will take time to talk and how one volunteer pulled out a box filled with catheters he had collected for her because he knew she couldn't afford them.

The Lexington woman, who says she once owned a home in the upscale Hartland neighborhood, is one of dozens of people who each week get help through the pharmacy at East Seventh Street and Elm Tree Lane. More than 1,000 people were served last year through the pharmacy, which is open only on Saturday mornings.

"These are people who have significant unmet medical needs," said Dan Wermeling, a volunteer pharmacist and associate professor at the University of Kentucky. "I feel like I can make a difference for them."

The idea is to help people who don't have prescription drug coverage in two ways. The pharmacy will fill a non- narcotic prescription for three months. The volunteers also will help patients secure free or low-cost drugs through pharmaceutical companies

That's the way it has been for 11 years, said one of the original founders, Matt McMahan.

Faith Pharmacy was started as a cooperative effort of Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church and the Cathedral of Christ the King.

Although free or low-cost medicines are available from pharmaceutical companies, it is a very tough system to navigate without help, said Pat DeLuca, a professor in UK's College of Pharmacy who also has been involved since the beginning. The rules about who qualifies vary from company to company, as does the paperwork required to be part of a program.

The clinic has proved so popular that on most Saturdays it stops taking patients at 10:30 a.m. so all patients can be served and so the volunteers aren't overwhelmed.

This year, after securing a grant from the American Pharmaceutical Association, the pharmacy is starting a program that will pair pharmacy students one on one with patients to help them manage chronic diseases. The initial focus will be on patients with diabetes.

Those patients will get additional testing to make sure their medication is working as it should, and they will work with the pharmacy students to make adjustments in their diet and exercise programs to help keep their disease in check. That can mean avoiding the serious diabetic complications such as blindness, heart attack, amputation and kidney failure.

Students will begin by taking an in-depth, medical history of the patients and monitoring them with frequent visits during the semester.

"It's a translation of what they learn in class into real practice, working with real patients," Wermeling said.

Student Brian Spencer is co-chair of the effort and said he wants to make a difference in the community.

"I'm not just in it for the clinical experience," he said. "It's just the fact you are helping some and providing the free counseling that they would otherwise not be getting.

"You get to sit down and talk to a patient for an hour or more and really get to know them."

Eighteen students have volunteered to take part in the program.

That kind of real-world experience, he said, you can't get in a classroom.

"It gets you out there without the (pharmacy) counter in between you and the patient," he said. "Obviously, there is more to school than just learning itself."