Carol is a 45-year-old single mother who not long ago worked for a “Big Four” accounting firm in New York. Today she is one of roughly 1.3 million people in New Jersey without health insurance.
The kinds of jobs Carol (not her real name) once knew are hard to find. She now works as a supermarket cashier. She once went a year without a car. She also suffers from depression and anxiety, which is managed with three costly prescription medicines.
But she also counts her blessings. Chief among these would be her loving, autistic teenaged son and the Hunterdon County Medication Access Partnership (HCMAP).
“I’m just trying to keep things going,” Carol says. “If it hadn’t been for that program, I don’t know where we would be.”
The Hunterdon County Medication Access Partnership (HCMAP) is a coalition of community, government and business groups in this western New Jersey county that helps people without drug coverage get the medicines they need.
About three years ago, the HCMAP program coordinator at Hunterdon Medical Center enrolled Carol in patient assistance programs offered by several pharmaceutical companies. She now gets her medications for free.
Carol regards HCMAP as a life saver. New Jersey healthcare leaders view it as a model.
Recently, HCMAP was recognized by the New Jersey Hospital Association with a Community Outreach Award meant to highlight best practices of hospitals working with their local communities to meet area needs.
The recognition was a source of pride for many people and organizations, including Bristol Myers Squibb. Seven years ago, the company provided a grant that helped launch HCMAP. One of the program’s founders was Mark Peters, Bristol Myers Squibb’s director of Cardiovascular Metabolics Advocacy.
Help for New Jersey’s capital health’s family center
Bristol Myers Squibb also has been helping establish another medication access program in New Jersey, this one at Capital Health’s Family Health Center, an outpatient clinic in Trenton for people who are uninsured or underinsured.
As with HCMAP, the prescription program at Capital Health helps qualified people obtain free or low-cost medicines by connecting them with numerous public and private medication access programs, including many offered by pharmaceutical companies.
Bristol Myers Squibb provided an initial grant to Capital Health in 2006 to launch its program. Madelyn Lamb, a retired nurse at Capital Health, led the all-volunteer initiative, recruiting and training a network of others equally committed to the cause.
Operating one day a week out of the Family Health Center, the volunteers matched patients’ needs to the right program, and coordinated the enrollment process and any follow-up paperwork to help people get free medications and refills.
Demand for services was strong and in 2009 Bristol Myers Squibb awarded a second grant enabling Capital Health to expand the program to three days a week through a combination of paid and volunteer staffing.
Since that expansion, the number of active participants in the program has increased from approximately 170 to 250, according to Sharon Lantzy, the program’s coordinator.
Valerie Sampson, manager of Capital Health’s Family Health Center, observes that the recession also seems to be driving the increased demand for both clinic and prescription assistance services -- as evident in the numbers and the kinds of people seeking care.
“You would be surprised at who comes through the clinic now,” Sampson says. “We are seeing teachers, real estate agents, small business owners, people who once had health insurance but lost their jobs, or had their hours reduced and lost their benefits.”
Improving health and reducing demand
Capital Health President and CEO Al Maghazehe said the prescription assistance program, like the clinic, helps the hospital fulfill its mission of improving the health of the community. By helping people obtain the medicines they need, and ensuring compliance with the treatment regimens, the program also reduces demand on the healthcare system.
“This program has given us the opportunity to assist patients who would have issues accessing the medicines they need,” Maghazehe says. “If you don’t do this, many people will end up coming back with more severe problems, whether to a doctor’s office or to the hospital.”
Hunterdon County’s experience supports his assertion. An outcomes study conducted by HCMAP during an initial pilot phase documented a 30 percent reduction in use of the emergency room at Hunterdon Medical Center by program participants. Ongoing monitoring of the program since then finds that 85 percent of HCMAP patients stay compliant with their medications.
Results like that have earned HCMAP regular financial support from Hunterdon Medical Center and Hunterdon County government, which each pay a third of the program’s operating costs. An annual fundraiser brings in the balance of what’s needed to sustain it.
As Capital Health works to strengthen its own prescription assistance program, HCMAP’s leaders are eager to share what they’ve learned.
HCMAP’s Coordinator Karen Kallens and Capital Health’s Sharon Lantzy maintain close contact and recently collaborated in choosing special software to manage patient records for their programs. HCMAP even gave Capital Health a portion of a monetary award it received from the Excellence in Medicine Foundation in New Jersey to help buy the software.
“It’s all about giving back,” says Bristol Myers Squibb’s Mark Peters. “We saw the success in Hunterdon County and said: Let’s share the knowledge because it might help other patients get the medicine they need and fulfill their dreams.”
The needs Capital Health is attempting to meet are far greater than those in Hunterdon County, which takes in a fairly affluent part of the state. Trenton, once an industrial powerhouse, has endured a long period of decline. Many of its neighborhoods are economically distressed, and about 20 percent of the city’s population lived below the poverty line as of the 2000 Census. As such, Capital Health shoulders a large share of the burden of caring for the region’s poor.
Helping where it’s needed most
Maghazehe describes Bristol Myers Squibb’s support of the prescription assistance program and other Capital Health initiatives as examples of offering help where help is needed most. He recalls a day a few years ago when Anthony C. Hooper, president, Americas, visited Capital Health and spent a number of unhurried hours getting to know the organization, the hospital and the community’s health needs.
“You don’t see a lot of senior executives from major corporations do that,” Maghazehe says. “It’s not just writing a check. It’s paying attention, taking a personal interest and being there for the long run.”