Prescription assistance program improves health, more for Lawrence’s homeless

Lawrence Community Shelter guest Jonathan Krasick takes his medication as Traci Goldsby, shelter healthcare coordinator, looks on. The shelter's prescription assistance program buys prescription medications for guests who can't afford them.

The Lawrence Community Shelter's prescription assistance program buys prescription medications for guests who can't afford them. The shelter pays for and stores the prescriptions in a locked cabinet, and staff members give them to guests to take as directed.

After leaving her house because of a broken furnace and pipes she couldn’t afford to fix, Judy Saverda-Allen found it difficult to prioritize paying for maintenance medications even though she knew they were important.

“There are meds that my health situation requires that I have to have,” she said. “I would have to tell the doctor, ‘No, unless it’s on the $4 list I can’t get it.'”

Saverda-Allen, who moved into the Lawrence Community Shelter last month, said she was surprised to learn about the shelter’s prescription assistance program. She is one of many shelter guests the program enables to fill new or continue filling existing prescriptions.

The program burgeoned in the shelter’s first year at its new, larger location at 3655 E. 25th St., with 847 prescriptions filled in 2013 compared to 543 in 2012, according to the shelter’s newly released annual report.

More people means more prescriptions, Executive Director Loring Henderson said, and the shelter has $16,200 budgeted for medications in 2014. The amount is a sliver of the shelter’s roughly $993,000 annual operating budget, but Henderson said it makes a big difference for many guests.

“Even if it’s just a minimum copay it can be hard for them to come up with the $4,” he said. “It’s just key to helping them have good health, and having good health is key to helping them get out of the shelter.”


Intervention is one of the shelter’s key programs, and staff helps connect guests with mental and physical healthcare providers. When those providers prescribe medications, “we want to be able to follow through with that,” said case manager Sally Bartlett.

Other guests have been prescribed medications in the past — diabetes is one common but serious condition — but arrive at the shelter having not taken them in years, Bartlett said.

“It’s really dangerous, but they don’t have any money,” she said. “Just getting them back on that can be lifesaving.”

Roughly 60 people a day take prescriptions at the shelter, most paid for through the assistance program, shelter Healthcare Coordinator Traci Goldsby said.

She estimates about 40 percent of those are for physical and 60 percent for mental problems. Common physical ailments include diabetes, thyroid problems, allergies and pain. There are cases of severe mental illnesses but depression and anxiety are more typical.

How it works

When a guest gets a prescription, it’s filled at Hy-Vee on Clinton Parkway. The shelter pays Hy-Vee for the medications, Hy-Vee delivers them to the shelter and staff stores them in a locked cabinet.

Either Goldsby or another staff member is available almost any time of day to open the cabinet and give guests their prescriptions.

While participating in the program means guests must give up some control and privacy, Goldsby said the process is important to prevent abuse and protect both residents and staff in the group living facility. Guests won’t have their medications stolen or be pressured to sell them, she said. Staff remains aware of what substances are in the building and can help make sure guests are taking them as directed.

Most money for the program comes from the shelter’s general fund, but the organization does receive some donations earmarked for prescriptions.

The shelter is able to pay for most prescriptions, Bartlett said. For more expensive medications, such as $50 inhalers prescribed for mild conditions, staff tries to work with the pharmacy or provider to find cheaper options. For even-more-expensive medications, say a couple hundred dollars or more, the shelter usually has to say no, Bartlett said, “which is really unfortunate, but there’s just no way.”

A ‘great relief’

Homelessness is hard on people financially, physically and mentally.

Goldsby said medications can indirectly do more than just improve health.

“Especially for people with anxiety and depression, they’re able to socialize, they’re able to more effectively communicate with staff here as well as people in the community to find a job or go to the doctor,” she said. “Just really start to think of their life in terms of moving on from here.”

“People will be almost in tears because they need their medicine and they can’t afford it. When I tell them that we have a program people are just so grateful.”

Saverda-Allen is one of those grateful people. She is working part-time and trying to make decisions about her future, she said, and having her prescriptions paid for is a “great relief.”

“It’s one less big worry,” she said.