St. Vincent de Paul pharmacy dispenses a dose of dignity along with medications

Client Barry Silver

Client Barry Silver

Barry Silver is the first to admit he was “hysterical” about 10 years ago when he arrived at the relatively new pharmacy at St. Vincent de Paul. After being placed on disability, he had no prescription insurance coverage. He was cutting his medications in half to make them last longer and avoid refills.

“I had lost my dignity as a person,” Silver said. “But at St. Vincent de Paul they were so welcoming. I got my self-esteem back.”

That holistic approach is part of what makes St. Vincent de Paul’s Charitable Pharmacy a nationally honored program, providing uninsured and underinsured people with free medications at two locations: the Liz Carter Outreach Center in the West End and the Western Hills Thrift Store.

Pharmacy director Mike Espel

Pharmacy director Mike Espel

Pharmacy director Mike Espel said clients get individualized attention not only about what kind of medication they need, but also about what is going on in their lives. Since eligible clients must have incomes below a certain point (determined by family size and the 2017 federal poverty level), they often have many issues when it comes to housing, nutrition and other wellness factors, like having a doctor.

“We do a lot of motivational interviewing,” Espel said. “We help clients look at how they can get the full benefit of a medication. Sometimes it’s not just getting the prescription, sometimes it’s the opportunity to educate.”

Others have observed the pharmacy has better outcomes than Medicaid, for example. In a national program, the pharmacy recently received a bronze medal, worth $10,000 in products to use for blood glucose screenings. And Espel received a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Award for Health Equity presented by the National Association of Free Clinics for showing success in changing systems that impact the health of patients.

But the individual success stories and national awards don’t make it easy to operate the free pharmacy, Espel said. “It’s a delicate balance. We get a lot of donated medication. And we have to juggle what we get with what the need is. There’s a lot of divine intervention. Somehow we always seem to have what we need.”

Three-fourths of the medications are donated by wholesalers and international organizations, long-term care facilities, drug companies and sample supplies from physicians. The rest, as well as funding for staff, comes from monetary donations and grants.

Such community support is critical at a time when many people find themselves uninsured, underinsured or without prescription coverage. The rising cost of medications, such as the 200 percent increase for insulin in recent years, makes staying healthy even more of a challenge for a diabetic with a limited income.

Volunteer Mike Horn, a semi-retired pharmacist

Volunteer Mike Horn, a semi-retired pharmacist

To further stretch the funding and pay for more medications that must be purchased, volunteer staff supplement the paid staff, enabling the one-on-one attention clients need. Help comes from volunteer pharmacists and technicians, as well as students at regional colleges and universities who earn clinical hours by volunteering at St. Vincent de Paul. One such volunteer is semi-retired pharmacist Mike Horn, who has provided care at the pharmacy for three years.

“I like how we can follow the patient closely,” Horn said. “We see all kinds of people, and they are all fighting the good fight. A lot of them are still working, but it’s not enough to pay for their medications. We work with them so they feel better.”

In addition to counseling, the pharmacy offers immunizations and monitors health with blood pressure readings and other tests. If a client doesn’t renew a prescription or pick it up from the pharmacy, the staff calls to check in.

Silver said that personal connection “helped me look inward” and take charge of his health. For example, he said, he was a diet soft drink “fiend,” and in his conversations with St. Vincent de Paul staff he realized that he needed to drink more water. He has shed weight, eats a more healthy diet and feels better than he has in years.

“You can’t measure that in dollars,” he said.

Events benefit pharmacy program

Two coming events will support the St. Vincent de Paul pharmacy program in Cincinnati.

The Prescription Fore Fun golf outing is at 2 p.m. Monday, July 31, at Clovernook Country Club. The registration deadline for sponsorships and for the nine-hole golf outing is July 21.

Tickets for the Wine and Bourbon Tasting Event, which immediately follows at 5 p.m. Monday, July 31, at Clovernook Country Club, are also available. The tasting is accompanied by food pairings and includes a silent auction. Tickets can be purchased separately or in conjunction with the golf outing.

(513) 562-8853 or

SVDP Pharmacy by the numbers

    • The St. Vincent de Paul Pharmacy, which opened in 2005, is one of fewer than 50 charity pharmacies in the nation.
    • It has filled more than 355,000 prescriptions with a total retail value of more than $41 million.
    • About 80 percent of its medications come from donations.
    • Staffing includes five pharmacists and technicians, plus more than 200 volunteers.
    • The community has saved an estimated $6.1 million in health care costs because of reduced hospital stays and visits to emergency rooms.
  • Clients qualify under the current federal poverty level guidelines (for example, a $32,489 annual income for a family of two) and must live in Hamilton, Butler, Warren or Clermont counties in Ohio.

Discover more from Movers & Makers

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.