After two years of planning – and untold prayers of petition – Philip J. Baker, Pharm. D., witnessed a mission come to life when Good Shepherd Health opened on September 9.
The nonprofit pharmacy is the vision of Baker, who formerly worked as director of the pharmacy at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Germantown, and arrives as the newest facility to open in the Bluff City to provide low-cost or free medications to those in need.
But there’s more to Good Shepherd than free meds.
“We want Good Shepherd Medication Management to be more than just a pharmacy where patients come to get prescriptions filled,” Baker said. “We want to go beyond dispensing meds and sit down with patients and talk to them about medication management. This is not a quick stop to drop off prescriptions or pick up medicine.”
Good Shepherd is mission-minded rather than money-focused, Baker said. The venture was born out of a desire to provide free or low-cost medications to uninsured patients and those living in extreme poverty. The model takes cues from the Dispensary of Hope in Nashville, founded in 2007 as a “charitable medication distributor."
That program now dispenses medications to practices and pharmacies across the country, such as the newly opened Good Shepherd.
Here’s how it works.
Good Shepherd contracts with Dispensary of Hope for a fee of $12,500 a year, and as part of the deal Good Shepherd receives medications that manufacturers donate for dispensing by such facilities. To receive prescriptions at Good Shepherd, patients become “members” and pay monthly fees to receive free or at-cost medications.
Memberships are $5 per month for patients under 18, $10 per month for those 18-29, and then go up $10 for each subsequent decade (30-39, etc.) until age 59. Patients 60 and over pay a maximum membership of $50 per month. The pharmacy does not dispense narcotics, and is designed to serve the pharmaceutically uninsured, or those with incomes at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, or $24,250 for a family of four.
Good Shepherd is also a valuable service for seniors caught up in the Medicare coverage gap, or donut hole, Baker said. The gap occurs when seniors spend $2,960 on covered drugs (the amount increases to $3,310 in 2016). Beyond that amount, Medicare patients pay 45 percent of the cost for brand-name prescription drugs.
“We’ve consulted with patients and cut many of their monthly prescription costs in half,” Baker said. “We’re working with one woman who was paying more than $400 a month for her prescriptions, and we’ve got that down to about $80. It makes a huge difference.”
The rising costs of prescriptions are out of control, Baker said, and contribute to a lower standard of living when patients are unable to afford medications. The Good Shepherd model counteracts that through its relationship with Dispensary of Hope, and because of its nonprofit status, the facility does not depend on charging dispensing fees or marking up meds to stay afloat.
“Most people don’t realize how remarkably cheap medications are and how phenomenally much they’re marked up,” Baker said. “We eliminate as many of those costs as possible because our mission is to serve people, not make a lot of money.”
Dispensary of Hope receives its medications from more than 1,000 medical practices across the country that donate samples of brand-name drugs, as well as from manufacturers. Because the donation model depends on medications sent by physicians and manufacturers, Good Shepherd stocks 185 permanent medications, with another 100 meds that are available on a regular basis, but may sometimes be in limited availability.
Located in the 6,000-square-foot space at the Hickory Ridge Mall once occupied by Bath & Body Works, Good Shepherd currently is open for patient consultations from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Baker and two other full-time staffers are also on site the two other weekdays to answer phones, manage orders, fill mail-order prescriptions and develop patient care plans. The plan is to be open to the public more days as the business grows.
On opening day, for example, Baker performed consultations and created pharmaceutical profiles for three walk-in patients, assisted another patient by phone, and filled another order via email. And that’s with relatively little advance notice about Good Shepherd’s opening. The practice is expected to grow significantly as more people discover it.
“We have the option to expand our square footage here, and we’re already approved to mail prescriptions to patients throughout Tennessee,” said Will Singleterry, director of sales and marketing for Good Shepherd. “We plan to be a nationwide mail-order service within a year, and see more patients at our location at Hickory Ridge Mall.”
Because of different state laws and regulations, Good Shepherd cannot immediately begin dispensing meds across the country, Singleterry said. Some states require specific registration and licensing for facilities that mail prescriptions, and plans are under way to meet all those requirements.
Good Shepherd’s success is important to the patients it serves, and a much-needed service in the community, said Carrie Ann Hogan, lead pharmacist at Baptist Hospital’s Walnut Grove Plaza Pharmacy.
“We have a similar program for patients who can’t afford their medications and who meet with a social worker to register for our program,” Hogan said. “They primarily receive maintenance medications, and we work with them to get them signed up before they leave the hospital.”
The Baptist program, which also works with the Nashville-based organization that Good Shepherd utilizes, began in 2010. Last year more than 1,500 prescriptions were filled by Baptist’s program, serving more than 700 patients.
Kay Ryan, director of the Regional One pharmacy, said the hospital’s model historically was to offer free medications to patients unable to pay for them. The current model still allows for free meds for those who can’t pay, including many homeless patients, but also provides $3 prescriptions for those who can afford it.
“We dispense more than 600 prescriptions every day, and 55 percent of those are for patients who are uninsured, and we work as an advocate for patients to physicians to get them medications at low or no cost,” Ryan said. “I’m really excited that Good Shepherd is now in our community because it means more patients will be able to get the medications that many of them can’t afford. The need in our community is tremendous, but it’s encouraging to see programs like this that help those in greatest need.”
Good Shepherd Health, www.goodshephealth.com;
Dispensary of Hope, www.dispensaryofhope.org