PHARMAssist: Helping seniors for 20 years

Jun. 29, 2014 @ 02:15 PM

When 77-year-old Edith Creveling moved with her husband from New York to Durham 10 years ago, the couple faced a dilemma.

They could pay $400 a month for their medications and go without groceries, or skimp on the drugs that her husband, who had Parkinson’s disease, needed.

She found a solution.

It’s called Senior PHARMAssist, a nonprofit that’s helped more than 10,000 Durham seniors with their medications since it began 20 years ago.

For many participants, PHARMAssist has made the difference between an impoverished life and one with hope.

“They have been fantastic,” Creveling, now a widow, said. “They’ve helped me so much. It’s been a blessing.”

PHARMAssist helped steer Creveling to a Medicare plan that was right for her and paid for almost all the couple’s medications.

But the agency helped her with things beyond medicine. When her furnace was about to die, PHARMAssist got her a new one. And when her roof was crumbling, they linked her with volunteers who replaced it.

“Every time I go there, they ask: ‘Is there anything you need?’ ” Creveling said.

After her husband died in 2009, Creveling had open-heart surgery and PHARMAssist was there again to help with her meds.

“They take their time and listen to me,” she said. “They listen to my needs.”

The person leading PHARMAssist since its inception is Gina Upchurch, executive director. She said the agency does four things:

-- Helps those 60 and older with low incomes pay for medicine.

-- Helps them manage their medications.

-- Finds other community resources to help them. That might include arranging for home-delivered meals or getting a ramp installed at their home.

-- Provides Medicare counseling.

“Not only do we help with health literacy, but we help with insurance literacy,” Upchurch said. “The goal is to keep people independent and engaged in their community as long as possible.”

This year, the agency expects to help about 1,700 people.

Some are struggling to stay independent in their homes. They often live alone and “are just able to get by with some assistance,” Upchurch said. “They bring all their medicines in, and we go through them all” and offer advice. “Some have been with us for 10 years or more.”

“They can call us anytime if they need extra food or a handicap sticker, for example,” Upchurch said. “We’re there for them very consistently.”

A 2006 study showed how valuable the agency is: Those who had been in the PHARMAssist program for two years had 51 percent fewer hospital stays and 27 percent fewer emergency room visits.

“We’re proud of that,” Upchurch said. “We proud that we do emphatically makes a difference in their lives.”

In addition, she said, the agency has shown that the typical participant who gets Medicare counseling from PHARMAssist saves an average of $600.

“Two-thirds of people we help need to switch plans each year,” Upchurch said. “We see Medicare beneficiaries doing what they’ve always done and not comparing plans, but it pays to compare.”

Upchurch said it’s gratifying to have a job that improves people’s lives.

“We honor older adults, and believe that they are very precious,” she said. “We’re driven in all things to recognize that.”