Clinic that offers help gets help

Hospital helps Helping Hands get faster pharmacy service
Mar. 09, 2013 @ 09:39 AM

Herbert Bumgarner can’t cut wood for very long without stopping to rest. His lungs fill with fluid, making it harder to breathe. He takes Advair to help him inhale air, Lipitor for his high cholesterol, Metformin for his diabetes, and blood pressure medications.

He has no health insurance and no steady job. For the past two years, the Helping Hands Clinic on Harper Avenue has kept his medicine cabinet filled for just a $5 donation each visit. But the clinic’s pharmacy was only open two hours a day, four days a week, and Bumgarner often required two trips to the clinic for his meds. Even when was able to get his prescriptions filled, a pharmacist might not be available to answer questions.

Those problems affected more than Bumgarner.

About half the time, the clinic's clients weren’t even coming back to get their prescriptions, said Lilly Skok Bunch, the executive director of Helping Hands Clinic.

“We were not fulfilling our mission,” she said. 

On Feb. 1, that all changed when the clinic’s pharmacy moved its operation to the Community Pharmacy at Caldwell Memorial Hospital. With expanded hours, more available staff, including full-time pharmacists, and more medicines on hand, Bumgarner no longer has to rely on family for assistance.

“It’s much less of a hassle,” Bumgarner says. “I have to only pick up medicine one time at the Community Pharmacy.”

Helping Hands Clinic provides quality free or low-cost medical care to people without health insurance. The clinic treats chronic diseases such as pulmonary disease, diabetes, respiratory diseases, heart disease and arthritis through its Caldwell Health Access Program, or CHAP.

Last year, HHC staff starting crunching numbers and came to a startling realization.

“We looked at our rate of pick-up for medications, which is a real indicator of whether or not the care available is being used,” Bunch added. “Our rate was under 50 percent in our pharmacy. We said, why would someone with no barrier to cost not pick up their medicines? We looked at our hours and saw that there were so many barriers.”

The solution was to partner with a retail pharmacy. HHC already enjoyed a good relationship with Caldwell Memorial Hospital. In the fall of 2012, a new partnership began to form.

“They were willing to help,” said Debra Philyaw, HHC assistant director. “We said, 'Let’s do it.'”

The deal was sealed in January. The pharmacy moved out of its cramped quarters on Harper Avenue to the Community Pharmacy. HHC uses a separate room for its stock of medicines, donated by pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer, Eli Lilly and others through the PAP. Hospital pharmacists are available for processing HHC clients, while an HHC pharmacy technician assists with clients and fills prescription bottles.

As many as 22,000 prescriptions, at a retail value of between $4 million and $5 million, are filled each year by the HHC. It’s clients can now pick up their medication 40 hours per week instead of eight, as before. For the clinic, the cost savings is negligible. For its clients, the payoff is better health outcomes.

“It’s an incredible improvement for our clients,” Bunch said. “It’s been a challenging, interesting merger of two totally different operations. Patients cry when I they tell me, ‘Are you kidding, I don’t have to wait three days now?’”

HHC board president Todd Perdue says the partnership is one that could be modeled across the state.

“It’s a very innovative approach that other communities will look at,” he said. “This improves the quality of care and provides greater accessibility. The hospital has been an incredible partner in providing the space, talent, time and advice. I applaud Lilly and (CMH president and CEO) Laura Easton for having the vision to make this possible.”

The entire community reaps the benefits, according to CMH public relations director Kim Edmisten.

“It’s important for people to get primary care and prescriptions, especially for chronic disease management,” Edmisten said. “Patients who get regular care, and who take their medicines as required, don’t end up in emergency rooms down the road and become hospitalized for chronic disease. It’s just the right thing to do, to care for every member of our community."



What: Helping Hands Clinic Pot o' Gold Celebration, to support the mission of Helping Hands Clinic, the county's only nonprofit free clinic

When: Friday, March 22, 6 to 8 p.m.

Where: J.E. Broyhill Civic Center

Attire: Festive casual (St. Patrick's Day theme)

Cost: $50 per person, includes catered dinner, live music with "Sweet Briar Jam," silent auction, and raffle tickets for $10 each or six for $50 (available at Helping Hands Clinic, 810 Harper Avenue. Grand prize is $5,000 in cash, 2nd prize of jewelry from The Gold Mine.

To purchase event tickets, call 754-8459 ext. 308 or 312, or e-mail or RSVP by Friday, March 15.