Aging is simply, well, complicated.
Managing daily well-being is challenging enough. Add squeezing food and other necessities from a limited income, navigating the Medicare maze and keeping up with health care providers and medications, and a senior’s life can be difficult and confusing.
Help sorting out the complexities of medication use and health insurance decisions is available to Durham County residents through the 22-year-old nonprofit organization Senior PharmAssist, which served 2,232 people in fiscal year 2016.
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“I am most proud of how we make the people who come see us feel,” said Executive Director Gina Upchurch, a pharmacist and health educator who in 1992 began the work that officially became Senior PharmAssist in 1994. “They feel like they’re much more informed and better able to make decisions – and they tell us it is such a relief. And knowing we’re giving help to them in a way that respects their wishes and needs is something I’m so proud of.”
Upchurch said she built the organization based on awareness gained during a residency in geriatrics. When she asked seniors about medications, she said, it became “very evident that we had two major public health issues: people who couldn’t afford their medications and/or who were taking medicines that might be causing more harm than good.”
Senior PharmAssist targets those issues with a goal of helping Durham residents 60 and older “age well in place,” said Joe Daly, part of the organization’s remarkably stable staff for 16 years.
Daly said the organization, located in the Durham Center for Senior Life at 406 Rigsbee Ave., works closely with other nonprofits and governmental agencies to promote seniors’ health and well-being. The organization provides four primary services:
▪ Direct financial assistance for needed medicines if the participant has a limited income.
▪ Hands-on help with using medications safely, effectively and cost-effectively.
▪ Referral to resources such as food assistance and Medicare subsidies that can help the participant remain at home and remain a part of the community.
▪ Medicare drug and health insurance counseling so that individuals can make informed decisions about their annual coverage.
The group that gets served by PharmAssist, they’re much more in tune. They are much less likely to be on duplicate medications. … They’re healthier because they have more knowledge.
Dr. Lisa Nadler, who has been involved with Senior PharmAssist since 1997 and works for Duke Primary Care at Triangle Family Practice
Helping clients understand their medications improves their health, said Dr. Lisa Nadler, who has been involved with Senior PharmAssist since 1997 and works in the Duke Health system for Duke Primary Care at Triangle Family Practice.
“The group that gets served by PharmAssist, they’re much more in tune,” she said. “They are much less likely to be on duplicate medications. … They’re healthier because they have more knowledge. They have a better understanding of what they are taking and why they are taking it.”
Senior PharmAssist is the Durham coordinating site for the N.C. Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program, or NC SHIIP, and will assist any Medicare beneficiary, regardless of age or income level.
In these final weeks of the year, Senior PharmAssist is working on two major projects.
Staff and volunteer insurance counselors, who include retired teachers, health care providers and others, are busy assisting participants during the Oct. 15-Dec. 7 Medicare open enrollment period. The program will help more than 1,200 individuals make their choices.
And Senior PharmAssist is working to meet a $49,638 challenge grant from The Stewards Fund, which is matching new and increased support to the program through Dec. 31. The organization needs to raise $811,000 this fiscal year to help 2,440 individuals.
“A huge amount of our budget (about 35 percent) comes from individual donors,” Nadler said.
Donations help a variety of participants, including Elizabeth Hevey of Durham, who recently visited the office with husband Denis Hevey. Elizabeth Hevey said she is reassured by the organization’s services.
“With Senior PharmAssist’s Medicare counseling, you save money and – more importantly – skip the angst,” she said. “It’s very reassuring to leave here knowing that you haven’t made a mistake.”
406 Rigsbee Ave., Suite 201
Durham, NC 27701
Contact: Joe Daly, 919-956-5812
Description: For 22 years, Senior PharmAssist has been helping older adults remain as healthy and engaged as possible, for as long as possible. Our unique program helps Durham seniors 60 and older pay for medications if they have limited incomes, manage medication use to ensure medicines are doing more good than harm, access other valuable resources that can improve well-being and help them remain in their homes, and evaluate Medicare-approved health and drug plans to maximize coverage at affordable prices. Participants in our program cannot obtain our combination of services anywhere else and report significant reductions in hospital stays and emergency department use. They also report feeling better, demonstrate increased knowledge about their medications and maintain the ability to perform tasks such as feeding and dressing on their own.
Donations needed: Senior PharmAssist provided one-on-one care to 2,232 individuals last year — our busiest year ever — and we hope to reach at least 2,440 neighbors this year. To help make this possible, The Stewards Fund has offered us a $49,638 challenge grant that matches new or increased support dollar for dollar. To qualify, donations or pledges must be received by Dec. 31, 2016. Visit www.seniorpharmassist.org/donate to make a gift or learn more.
Volunteers needed: Senior PharmAssist welcomes help with community outreach and fundraising, and occasionally needs daily office volunteers who act as receptionists or help with special projects. Pro bono professional assistance with IT projects is always welcomed. For office volunteers, the expectation is four hours per week. Time commitments for other volunteer roles may be considerably less depending on the project.
$10 would buy: Medical transportation to our office for a senior who could not otherwise keep his/her appointment, or support for our pharmacist to conduct a home visit.
$20 would buy: Help with accessing drug company assistance programs for an individual struggling to pay for medications and not eligible for our direct financial assistance or other insurance coverage.
$50 would buy: Tailored community referrals for two seniors so they tap into other programs and services such as help paying Medicare Part B (outpatient care) premiums and obtaining Medicare Part D (drug) subsidies, which dramatically lower prescription plan premiums and copayments.