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By Richard Asinof
PROVIDENCE – CVS Caremark has become the pharmacy for the Rhode Island Free Clinic, dispensing free medicine to more than 2,000 clinic patients at three pharmacy locations – in Cranston, in Central Falls and in Providence, CVS announced Friday.
The clinic, founded in 1999 by Stephanie Chafee, provides free, comprehensive primary care to uninsured, working poor, low-income adults and works with more than 700 volunteer physicians and specialists.
“We’re the safety net for the safety net,” said Marie Ghazal, CEO of the R.I. Free Clinic.
Before the new philanthropic partnership with CVS, the R.I. Free Clinic had managed its own pharmacy on a volunteer basis, dependent upon donations of medicine and volunteer pharmacists and technicians, with limited hours of operation.
Now, under the partnership with CVS, clinic patients can pick up their prescriptions during normal operating hours at the pharmacies.
Larry Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Caremark, praised the work of Ghazal and her team at the clinic, telling Providence Business News: “They have done a terrific job helping people who need it.” Many of the patients, he continued, are “people who are out there working every day, but don’t have access or can’t afford access to health care.”
Merlo said that clinic patients will have access to all of the same services that CVS provides to its patients, including prescription adherence efforts. The cost of the program is about $125,000 a year, according to Merlo.
“Everyone deserves health care,” Ghazal told Providence Business News during an interview before the event. “Our patients are the people who have fallen through the cracks, who can’t afford health insurance. These are people who don’t fit into the system. Many are very hard working.”
The clinic leverages more than $2.5 million in additional free medical resources on its annual $1 million budget, according to Ghazal.
The demand to become a clinic patient is so high, Ghazal said, the clinic holds a monthly lottery, at which 25 to 35 patients are chosen. Ghazal correlates the increasing demand with the high unemployment rate in Rhode Island.
“Our patients are often working, but their employer doesn’t provide insurance, or they can’t afford health insurance,” she said. “We’re not making money here. If the total care can be managed, if we can change behavior and make you well, it reduces the costs for everyone.” Without health insurance, Ghazal continued, there is a cost to everything you need to keep someone healthy.
The new partnership was announced at a news conference at the R.I. Free Clinic’s location on Broad Street in Providence, which is a fully licensed Outpatient Ambulatory Care Facility, with seven exam rooms, an ophthalmology unit, a podiatry suite and counseling rooms. Speakers included Ghazal, Merlo, Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, Valerie Littlefield, the R.I Free Clinic’s board chair, Dr. Herbert Rakatansky, a physician volunteer and clinic board member, and Trinda Johnson-Prior, a clinic patient.