Time and again, Julie Copp has seen how chronic diseases rob people of their mobility, livelihood and quality of life.
Medication, however, can change all that.
So when Copp's patients came to Volunteers in Medicine Hilton Head in need of a drug they could not afford, the free clinic would buy it. Now, a new partnership with national organization Dispensary of Hope is allowing the free clinic to save money and better serve its patients by distributing surplus drugs.
Since January, the Volunteers in Medicine has been receiving drugs collected from manufacturers and distributors nationwide, cutting Volunteers in Medicines' pharmacy costs by about half, said Copp, director of patient care.
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"It's early, so it may be even more than that," Copp said.
The clinic pays a $7,500 annual fee to Dispensary of Hope for access to whatever drugs the organization has available, including expensive inhalers and diabetes testing supplies. Those medications are especially needed on the island, Copp said. The clinic has about 700 diabetes patients, 800 hypertension and heart patients, and just as many who suffer from lung problems.
"Some inhalers are $300," Copp said. "That's a lot of money ... every month, and that's just one of your medications."
To qualify, patients or an immediate family member must live or work on Hilton Head Island or Daufuskie Island, be uninsured and make less than 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines.
Another free clinic, the Good Neighbor Free Medical Clinic of Beaufort, serves communities in northern Beaufort County. Manager Adelaide Sanford said she orders medication from drug companies that offer free medicine, including insulin, inhalers and drugs for blood pressure and cholesterol.
There is also a small Volunteers in Medicine location in Bluffton, which stocks its pharmacy with donations and medicine purchased with a grant from Coastal Carolina Hospital. Its options, however, are limited, grant writer Fred Gillam said.
The Dispensary of Hope chose to partner with the Hilton Head location after Copp met Anita Stanford, vice president of business development for Dispensary of Hope, at a conference.
"They're in a high-need area, and they had a very solid base of patients that they were seeing," Stanford said. "By allowing them access to very valuable front-line medication to self manage their conditions, it enables them to be more productive citizens, to keep jobs, to serve their communities."
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.