Senior PharmAssist helps older adults lead healthier lives

By Purity Kimaiyo
NCCU Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE

This week ABC Nightly News began a series on elderly care. Tuesday night’s segment, on prescription medicine and the problems seniors run into when they have to take up to 25 medications a day, resembled Naomi Wright’s story before she found assistance through Durham’s Senior PharmAssist.

Jessica Visco, Clinical Pharmacist, explains how to use a inhaler. Photo courtesy of Senior PharmAssist.

“My husband is a liver transplant patient who has multiple health problems,” said Wright. Senior PharmAssist helped Mr. Wright switch his Medicare-approved drug coverage so that the couple wouldn’t have to go through so many hoops, such as prior authorization and quantity limits, to get the many medications he takes on a daily basis.

“Many months I was not able buy any medicine because I couldn’t afford it. But because of his condition and his qualification they gave me a card that could get my medicine for $2,” said Wright. “Senior PharmAssist was a lifesaver to me.”

The nonprofit organization opened its doors in June 1994 to help Durham seniors obtain needed medicines and use those medications safely and effectively. After participants work with the program for two years, they report a 51 percent reduction in their rate of any hospital admissions. Over the years, the program has expanded services to respond to changes such as Medicare Part D.

“Last year, our program helped hundreds of individuals switch their Medicare drug coverage, saving them an average of almost $600 dollars,” said Joe Daly, the development and communications director of Senior PharmAssist. “We help Medicare beneficiaries review dozens of options each year to choose the most cost-effective Medicare drug plan, and our pharmacists also screen for medication-related problems with the medicines they are taking.

“It is so overwhelming – almost paralyzing – for seniors to go through this process by themselves,” said Daly. “That’s why we will help any Medicare beneficiary in Durham County with this important annual decision, and folks need to look at their options each year because policies and prices change.”

Senior PharmAssist is also the coordinating site in Durham County for the state Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP). They collaborate with state officials to train staff and volunteer counselors to help Durham County residents understand and manage basic Medicare, supplemental insurance or Medigap, and Medicare Advantage plans.

Prescription Assistance Coordinator Casey Kaufman explains how a participant can maximize her medication benefits.

Senior PharmAssist also offers prescription coverage to Durham residents age 60 and older with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level ($1,805/month for individuals and $2,428/month for couples). If an individual has Medicare drug coverage, Senior PharmAssist supplements that benefit; if a person has no prescription coverage, the program serves as primary payer for the medicines Senior PharmAssist covers. In 2010, Senior PharmAssist paid for the medications of 309 individuals. The average single person’s monthly income was $1,375 and the average couple’s was $1,904.

Senior PharmAssist can provide transportation for participants via the Red Cross or make home visits to people who cannot get to their office in the Durham Center for Senior Life. They encourage seniors to become better self-advocates and provide community referral for other valuable services.

A 2009 News & Observer analysis praised Senior PharmAssist saying, “The program saves money and it helps people live better lives.” They said that one source had indicated that the services the program provides could save $20 billion a year nationally in unneeded hospitalization and emergency care.

In August 2010, the North Carolina and Durham-Orange County Medical societies presented Senior PharmAssist with an award, acknowledging their “leadership in providing vital services to the community.” In fact, Senior PharmAssist has received national, statewide and local recognition for its innovative programming for older adults, since its inception in 1994.

“Senior PharmAssist helps seniors remain as healthy and independent as possible for as long as possible,” said Daly. “We feel that our model should be everywhere.”

Senior PharmAssist hosts quarterly meetings of the Durham Medicare Rx Network, which includes representatives from the Department of Social Services, the local Social Security office, Lincoln Community Health Center and discharge planners and social workers at the local hospitals. They also have outreach programs at churches such as White Rock Baptist Church.

“You walk in feeling like a human being and you leave feeling like one,” said Wright.

Senior PharmAssist is a unique program in Durham located in the Durham Center for Senior Life building, 406 Rigsbee Avenue Suite 201, Durham, N.C.

For more information call 919-688-4772 or visit

One thought on “Senior PharmAssist helps older adults lead healthier lives

  1. I agree with the overwhelming process of dealing with Medicare, Medigap Plans, and even Medicare Advantage plans. I spent time helping my mother-in-law and grand mother deal with this process. It made me aware of how many seniors need assistance with selecting medicare supplement (medigap) plans. What I learned early on with my family has helped me to help others in similar situations thru my independent insurance brokerage. I am glad plans like this are out there. I have helped many, but there are so many more that don’t get help and end up overwhelms and often make a poor choice for themselves. Keep up the good work!

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