The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

January 26, 2013

Free clinic microcosm of Oklahoma's health coverage challenge


SHAWNEE, Okla. — Free refills

The free clinic opens its doors at 5 p.m. every Thursday, when the Pottawatomie County Health Department’s paid staff goes home and Copeland’s volunteers take over. It’s supposed to shut down at 7 p.m., but that rarely happens.

Even though each Thursday’s two volunteer physicians are expected to take only 10 patients each, they generally wind up seeing more, and the pharmacy volunteers have their hands full dispensing drugs to 50 or so people who show up every week for refills.

Last year, clinic doctors saw 857 patients. The pharmacy team dispensed 5,362 prescriptions with a retail value of $186,000.

The clinic subsists on about $16,000 a year, of which more than $14,000 is used to buy medicine. Most of the money is donated by United Way. No government funding is involved, except for Copeland’s half-time wages at the Health Department.

Pharmacist Mike Vorndran oversees the prescription refills. Most of the medications are for chronic conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. The clinic doesn’t dispense pain pills or antidepressants.

Vordran gets some of the pills at no cost from doctors, who give him their free samples, and from nursing homes, which donate their residents’ unused meds. He buys the remainder from distributors at heavily discounted rates.

“We see people who literally have to decide between buying groceries and buying their prescriptions,” he said. “I just felt that this was a way I could help alleviate some of that.”

They keep calling

As 7 p.m. approaches, Lena Garvin still is sitting in the packed waiting room, waiting patiently to get her prescriptions refilled. She said she’s glad to be sitting anywhere, after the heart attack she experienced last July.

Garvin, 51, said she was preparing food at a Burger King franchise in Yukon when her heart seized up. Her half-time job there paid $7.50 an hour. She was not eligible for health insurance.

She was rushed to Baptist Memorial Hospital in Oklahoma City, where emergency room personnel inserted a metal stent in one of her coronary arteries. A few weeks later, they inserted a second one.

Garvin was told she was in no shape to return to work. Her doctor agreed to waive his charge. But she said the hospital is demanding $36,000 for her stay there. She has no way to pay unless Social Security approves her application for disability benefits. She figures that’s a long shot.

“I still get a call every day for the hospital bill,” she said. “Literally every single day. I tell them I’ve applied for Social Security, and I’m still waiting.”

Garvin, who lives in the country near Pink, also has diabetes and neuropathy, which causes numbness in her feet. She injects a half-dozen vials of insulin every month. She takes six or seven pills a day. She estimates the drugs would cost $700 to $1,200 a month if she did not receive free refills.

The last time Garvin went to see her heart doctor, she was told she needed a stress test. When she learned it would cost her $1,000, she declined.

“I won’t be having that,” she said.

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