Would free medicine support your mission?
Friday, October 11, 2013
Posted by: Joy Ingram
by Damon N. Taughr, Director, US Programs, Direct Relief
As the country grapples with the implementation of health care reform, health centers and clinics around the country are on the front lines, caring for people every day who are most in need. It is these providers who often offer the most informed, thoughtful views that are not always delivered in the loudest voice or even heard in the din of vigorous debate.
Their voices, experienced and reflective of the breadth of circumstances that exist on the frontlines of the healthcare safety net, describe the strong influence of place and differences in circumstances.
For the millions of people that depend on America's nonprofit healthcare safety net facilities, Direct Relief works on a daily basis to support them and ensure that their voices are heard. It is the work of these providers that inspires us to deliver resources to support their provision of quality care health care to the ever-increasing number of people that come through their doors.
From a warehouse in Santa Barbara, California, our nonprofit has staff that works every day to enable the flow of charitable medical resources to assist these providers with their daunting task of serving as the healthcare safety net. We’ve done it for over 65 years around the world, and for almost a decade in the U.S.
It began in 2004 with the observation by an internationally-based nonprofit – our own – of a challenging health care environment within its own state. The number of uninsured was climbing, and state budgets across the country were dealing with massive cutbacks. These cutbacks threatened the ability to provide services, particularly healthcare services, to reach all the people in need. Direct Relief realized it had a role to play in one specific yet important aspect: access to medicine.
During a routine staff meeting, the organization realized its potential. How can an organization whose work was established to help those in need overseas do more to help here at home? The answer to that question eventually led to a profound understanding of the work of tens of thousands of doctors, nurses, receptionists, pharmacists, physician assistants, and others that make up a network that today reaches more than 23 million people.
It began locally with the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, an essential provider of healthcare services to about 10,000 patients. A call to the medical director confirmed what was being seen throughout California – they were caring for more patients every year, with limited and sometimes reduced resources to assist. We thought we could help with one aspect of those resources. We had access to medicine and medical supplies that were donated to our organization from over 100 healthcare companies every year. These donations were provided in trust to our organization so that we could deliver them into the hands of providers worldwide who were reaching a patient population that couldn’t afford to pay for them. It became clear that this group of safety net providers throughout the U.S. – nonprofit health centers and clinics – were the perfect match to address these growing needs here at home.
We know health centers and clinics exercise every possible option to help their patients. To help them obtain medicines, this meant tight procurement budgets (often complimented by 304b), access through Patient Assistance Programs, and working with companies’ representatives to secure samples. We realized we could provide an additional option, but had no idea of the true nature of the work required until a massive hurricane struck.
In August 2005, the country suffered its deadliest hurricane in over 75 years – Hurricane Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. From an organization that had responded to emergencies around the world, the questions now became: was our assistance needed, and, if so, how could we help? Direct Relief’s aim was to foster an alliance of healthcare companies and nonprofits that worked to improve the health of people worldwide. The Partnership for Quality Medical Donations served to connect an international healthcare organization, Direct Relief, with a national one – the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC).
When health centers and clinics throughout Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas were working around the clock to support the changing needs in their local communities, NACHC made connections to State Primary Care Associations. These trusted relationships introduced us to health centers in communities across the Gulf. From there, needs were identified and presented to healthcare companies who then acted quickly to get these critically-needed donations to Direct Relief. The donations, overseen by Direct Relief’s Pharmacist whose background was in the development of pharmacy services at the Venice Family Clinic, were then delivered by FedEx, who sent all relief shipments free of charge to affected health centers and clinics. Within six months it became clear that this effort had national potential.
As health centers and clinics around the country grew to meet the needs of an expanding population, they needed to support their patients with resources not just during emergencies, but every day. As the challenges of communities grew and the number of people without health insurance climbed to nearly 50 million people, creative solutions were needed.
Direct Relief, in partnership with and guidance from NACHC, the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, and State Primary Care Associations, began a program to allow any center or clinic, in any part of the country, access to donations of medicine from over a hundred companies - not just during emergencies, but on an ongoing basis. Direct Relief soon became the first and only nonprofit organization licensed to distribute prescription medicine in all 50 states.
Today, Direct Relief’s warehouse processes over 5,000 shipments of medicine, medical supplies, and other healthcare items every year for the nonprofit providers on the front lines, providing access to affordable, quality services to people throughout the United States. They are unmatched in their ability to do so.
We work to receive donations destined to help more than 1,000 health centers and clinics in all 50 states. We accomplish this through our unique partnerships with businesses to engage their participation for noncommercial, humanitarian means. We work with healthcare companies to receive donations of medicines, with technology companies to further enable access to these donations, and with FedEx to ship the donations free of charge. Direct Relief is 100 percent privately funded, by individuals, foundations, and companies, all with the common goal of helping safety net providers meet the growing needs in their communities and to help the most vulnerable people. We know this need will not lessen, and in fact many expect the pressures on nonprofit providers to grow as health care reform continues to roll out. It through these unexpected relationships that we hope to continue to serve those most in need.
If you are a health center or clinic that is interested in receiving support for your uninsured patients, please contact us. We look forward to helping increase your access to medicines for the most vulnerable people in your communities.
NWRPCA welcomes and regularly publishes white papers and articles submitted by members, partners and associates with subject matter expertise. The appearance of any guest publication in our Health Center News database represents the views of the author and does not constitute endorsement by NWRPCA of the stated opinions or perspectives, nor does it suggest endorsement of the contributor's products or services.