PHARMAssist’s wide reach

Jun. 30, 2014 @ 10:48 PM

Twenty-two years ago, Durham’s Senior PHARMAssist agency recalls on its website, a task force of the Durham County Hospital Corporation “concluded that two public health needs needed to be addressed:

-- “Financial access to medications for seniors with limited incomes.

-- “Polypharmacy – the use of multiple, sometimes unnecessary medications.

“Senior PharmAssist was created to address those needs…”

Did it ever.

The nonprofit, which began operations two years later in 1994, has helped more than 10,000 Durham seniors in the two decades since.  A low-key outfit that simply does good work day in and day out, year in and year out, it has been an indispensable ally for seniors wrestling with a healthcare and insurance landscape in almost constant turmoil in those 20 years.

Medicare counseling is one of its chief objectives, and reliably, every year as the deadline nears for Medicare enrollment or changes, it conducts outreach to let seniors know options and understand the thicket of complicated and ever-shifting plans.

True to its founding purposes, it helps low-income seniors pay for their medications and manage them. In a fragmented healthcare system, seniors often are prescribed multiple and sometimes conflicting medications.

In recent years, it also has extended its reach to help younger people with disabilities that qualify them for Medicare assistance “sort through the dozens of drug plans available each year to select the best option for that person, at no charge. “

For seniors, the agency actually does far more than just help buy and understand their prescriptions. 

Lillian Creveling, 77, a client of Senior PHARMAssist since moving here with her now-deceased husband 10 years ago, praised the agency not only for its help with her and her husband’s medication needs but also for much more. It replaced her failing furnace and linked her with volunteers to replace her crumbling roof, she told The Herald-Sun’s Keith Upchurch, who reported Monday on the agency’s 20th anniversary.

“Every time I go there, they ask ‘is their anything you need?” Creveling said.

That’s exactly as Gina Upchurch, the agency’s executive director since its beginning, would have it.

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

Gina Upchurch is one of those individuals that make Durham a special place. Energetic and innovative, she has actually touched far more people than the thousands her agency has served directly.

Singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett sang some years ago that “Some make the world go ’round, others watch it turn.”
Upchurch is very much one of those that make it go ’round.

The agency notes that a study several years ago said that 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 that what we do emphatically makes a difference in their lives,” Upchurch said.

That they should be, for that it does.