It's not fancy. It offers no tabloid magazines, lipstick, candy or sweatshirts for sale, but that's the point.
The services being offered at the Prescription Assistance Network of Stark County matter much more than the ambiance. Located in the McKinley Avenue NW entrance of Goodwill Industries' Community Campus at 408 Ninth St. SW, PAN Stark County is a charitable pharmacy that provides low-cost prescription medications to those in need.
Opened in December of 2009, it is one of just three charitable pharmacies in Ohio, and has filled more than 4,000 prescriptions.
"The demand is just so high," said Carol Risaliti, the pharmacy's executive director. "As each month goes by, more people know about us."
The PAN Stark County serves people who are uninsured, or who lack prescription coverage, or those living 250 percent below the federal poverty guideline ($28,725, one-person household).
This year, more than 8,000 people have used the service.
Risaliti said the pharmacy, whose annual budget is $400,000, has contracted with such pharmaceutical firms as Merck, Pfizer, Novartis, and others, for donations of medicine valued at $2.4 million a year.
It also carries low-cost generic medicines.
Kathy Cather, managing pharmacist, said she believes PAN Stark County has had a huge impact on the community.
"Practically every day, patients tell us that if we weren't here, they wouldn't be getting their medications," she said.
Currently, the pharmacy fills about 150 prescriptions daily, and once a person is qualifies, prescriptions can be accepted from any physician.
"It's one of the things that set us apart as a charitable pharmacy," Risaliti said. "At a clinic, they can only fill prescriptions for their own patients. This is a real advantage."
Verna Paschal, a part-time pharmacist on staff since June, said PAN offers her a positive change of pace.
"Here, you get to talk to clients and counsel them better, whereas in retail, you're in a rush; there are hundreds of prescriptions to fill," she said. " You get to talk to them about changes in their medications."
"We sit down with every new patient," Cather said, adding that the most common medications are for diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. No pain medications with opiates are prescribed.
Paschal said the staff has developed relationships with many of the clients.
"They're very patient," she said. "If you tell them there's a 30- or-40-minute wait, they're OK."
Risaliti said no formal referrals are required to be a PAN client, as long as the criteria are met. However, everyone must schedule a screening interview. After one year, cases are reviewed.
The Prescription Assistance Network partners with NEOMED, the medical school in Rootstown, where Cather is an adjunct professor.
Each semester, from May through December, about 30 pharmacology students from NEOMED work 40-hour weeks on one-month rotations alongside the seven-person staff at PAN.
Page 2 of 3 - WORKER BEES
The students have a pharmacy-intern license, which enables them to fill prescriptions, and also undergo training in pharmacy management by way of overseeing younger students.
"Students are a lot of my workforce, my worker bees," Cather said with a smile. "We're very sad when they leave."
"They're very refreshing," Paschal said. "The bring in new stuff. I'm speaking as an old-school pharmacist."
Risaliti said the arrangement not only allows the students to get practical training in a real pharmacy, it also enables Cather and Paschal to spend more time with clients.
"When people's health improves, we notice that," Risaliti said. "It's very rewarding."
No one enrolled at the pharmacy is denied service because of an inability to pay. The cost for a prescription at the Prescription Assistance Network is $2 for one; $4 for two, and $5 for three or more.
"Rather than 'fee,' we say 'donation,'" Risaliti said. "For people who are homeless or unemployed, we don't push it. But 60 to 70 percent are able to pay something. We don't push it, but they want to. We want this to be very user-friendly and take away any barrier for getting medication. One is money."
Risaliti said some people give a donation over-and-above their cost in a bid to "pay it forward."
IMPACT OF ACA
Risaliti said the idea for a Prescription Assistance Network goes back to 2002, when the Austin Bailey Health and Wellness and Sisters of Charity foundations were fielding increasing requests from their partner agencies for medication. An initial proposal was made to partner with retail pharmacies. A series of subsequent meetings resulted in the formation of a new, independent agency.
However, no state law was in place that allowed charitable pharmacies until 2006.
Since PAN Stark County opened, it has received more than $14 million in medication donations. Risaliti said PAN Stark County has been strongly supported by local foundations, including the Health Foundation of Greater Massillon, as well as grants from the Health Resource Service Foundation, which helped underwrite the opening of the facility at Goodwill.
Risaliti said the pharmacy also receives donations of unused medications from local nursing homes.
"We also work with all the hospitals," she said. "The client is the big winner in all of this."
Asked how the Affordable Care Act may affect PAN Stark County, Risaliti said she isn't yet sure.
"I don't know if it will impact us in the sense that we'll lose clients," she said. "So many are transient."
Compounding the issue, Risaliti said, is that many of the clients served by PAN Stark County don't have access to computers to sign up for coverage, though some may qualify for Medicaid, the state-level medical program that recently was expanded by Gov. John Kasich to cover 275,000 more people.
Page 3 of 3 - "The majority we're seeing is not part of the Medicaid population, but don't have the income to pay for insurance," Risaliti said. "I hope many people will be able to access health care, but there's going to be a lot of confusion, much like Part D in Medicare," she said.
Risaliti said the intention of the Affordable Care Act is good, but added that she wouldn't be surprised to see more underinsured people who don't have "consumable dollars" to cover prescriptions.
For more information about Prescription Assistance Network of Stark County, call 330-445-1087, or visit http://panpharmacy.org.