SILER CITY — Lynn Glasser, executive director for Chatham County’s free pharmacy, has high hopes for it. He wants it to eventually close.
Chatham Cares Community Pharmacy, which opened in 2005 and operates on budget of less than $150,000, employs one full-time person, one part-time person, and five volunteer pharmacists.
It provides free prescriptions to some 350 qualifying low income, uninsured, and underinsured Chatham County residents — including those with chronic health concerns like high blood pressure, diabetes, and mental health disorders — who meet the 200% threshold income limit of the Federal Poverty Level.
And though it runs like a well-oiled machine, Glasser said, “We’d really like to put ourselves out of business one day.”
Glasser is a retired retail pharmacist and hometown kid who’s lived and worked in Chatham County most of his life. Like the other pharmacists practicing at Chatham Cares — Lewis Mizelle, Trish Wilson, Karen Geisler and Joan Davidson — he’s a volunteer. All but Geisler are retired, and they rotate shifts to ensure the pharmacy is staffed on a regular basis.
Glasser was once part-owner of Siler City Pharmacy, and that’s where he met Jack Brooks, who once owned Family Pharmacy across town. Brooks is the founding pharmacy manager for Chatham Cares Community Pharmacy, and served on the original board of directors with Glasser.
“I practiced for years in either Pittsboro or Siler City and just saw so many people affected by poverty,” Glasser said. “I knew when I retired, I would have time on my hands and wanted to do something to help the people of my home county. When Jack left Chatham Cares, I took over. I tell everybody it’s not just my home county that has problems — there’s poverty everywhere. I’m blessed to still be practicing, and I’m blessed to help the people who need help.”
Patricia Dowdy serves as its licensed pharmacy technician, and is the only full-time person on staff. Like Glasser, her awareness of poverty in the county encouraged her career pivot.
“I worked for over 25 years in retail pharmacy and was ready to change to nonprofit,” she said. “My dear grandmother Fields always taught and showed me how to help when I could. She always instilled in me that I should treat others the way I would want to be treated if I needed help.”
And that’s exactly what Chatham Cares Community Pharmacy does: help.
“There’s such a need for pharmaceutical care for patients who can’t afford it,” Glasser said. “Even with the Affordable Care Act impacting our business, there are still people who can’t afford the premiums. There’s poverty everywhere; I’m just helping my small slice of the people who can’t help themselves right now.”
Chatham Cares Community Pharmacy operates through donations and grants, occasionally getting help from those who’ve benefited from its services — like the former longtime client who found employment and started making annual financial contributions a couple years ago.
“There are people who are so appreciative of the things we do for them,” Glasser said. “That’s the satisfaction I get out of it. When I see people who don’t have much of anything, who are willing to give back when they can. That’s pure joy.”
Options are limited when you need medication and can’t afford it. Free pharmacies are a blessing, and not often commonly known about until you need the assistance. One of Dowdy’s areas of expertise is helping patients sign up for prescription assistance programs.
“In Chatham County, folks who need assistance can get medication from UNC pharmacy outpatient services if they qualify, or there are drug assistance programs for patients for many brand name medicines that are otherwise too expensive to get,” she said. “There are discount programs like Rx Outreach and Good Rx and Needy Meds ... and there’s us.”
Beyond dispensing prescriptions and corresponding consultations, having a free pharmacy in the community is a necessary bridge to poverty, according to Glasser.
“The dollars we can save the population is one thing,” he said, “but the bigger thing is that we’re able to provide lifesaving medications that otherwise wouldn’t be utilized by a population who can’t get those meds anywhere but a free pharmacy.”
Community outreach is an important element for the success of the Chatham Cares Community Pharmacy. Individuals-in-need learn about the pharmacy through word of mouth and referrals from healthcare providers.
Thanks to part-time receptionist Ana Salazar-Ortez, who also serves as a translator, materials are accessible bilingually. The community-at-large often learns about it through fundraisers, like the upcoming Celebration of Lights, which will present itself with hundreds of luminaries lining the drive up to St. Julia Catholic Church in Siler City.
As for Glasser and Dowdy, and the staff and volunteers at Chatham Cares, they’re luminaries, too. They’re the people who light the path when you need to see how to move forward.
“What it all boils down to is giving back,” said Glasser. “God has blessed me with a wonderful family and wonderful career, and through the teachings I’ve learned over the years in Sunday school and church, it’s me having the resources and the health to give back to people. That’s just what I should be doing with my life.”
The Celebration of Lights Drive-Through Luminary Service will be held from 6-7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 4, at St. Julia Catholic Church in Siler City. Admission is free, but luminaries can be purchased for $10 each. Proceeds from the sale of the luminaries and all corresponding general donations will go toward the purchase of medication for pharmacy clients. For more information and to make a donation, go to www.ChathamCares.com.
Dolly R. Sickles is a Pittsboro-based freelance writer, journalist, author, and occasional CNR columnist.
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