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Free pharmacy will open in Ohio church


2:30 P.M. EST Feb. 10, 2010

United Methodists are working with community partners and staff members of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries to establish a free pharmacy to serve the poor in central Ohio.

The Charitable Pharmacy of Central Ohio, set to open by late February, is an initiative of the West Ohio Annual (regional) Conference. It will operate in partnership with area hospitals, medical associations, health organizations and foundations.

A licensed pharmacist, Allan Zaenger, 53, will be executive director of the pharmacy at the Livingston (Ave.) United Methodist Church in Columbus. The patient services coordinator is Mariellyn Dunlap, a missionary through the Church and Community Workers program of the Board of Global Ministries.

"The charitable pharmacy program is a creative and effective way for the West Ohio Conference and our partners to engage in ministry with the poor," said Bishop Bruce R. Ough, leader of the conference. He noted that ministry with the poor and improved health services are among the mission priorities of The United Methodist Church. Ough is president of the New York-based mission agency.

An editorial in The Columbus Dispatch praised the church and those working with it for coming to the rescue of people with no prescription drug insurance or means to pay for medicine. The editorial called the pharmacy “good medicine.”

"When people must choose between giving their child food and filling a needed prescription, there's not much of a choice there," Dunlap said. "We want to try to ensure that no parent in Franklin County has to make that decision."

Acute need

“Between 2004 and 2008 in Franklin County, the number of adults who lack access to needed prescription drugs increased by 40 percent, to an astounding 146,553 people,” Dunlap said.

Pharmacist Allan 
Zaenger and patient services coordinator Mariellyn Dunlap will serve the
 new pharmacy.  Web-only UMNS photo courtesy of Bruce Reedy.
Pharmacist Allan Zaenger and patient services coordinator Mariellyn Dunlap will serve the new pharmacy. Web-only photo courtesy of Bruce Reedy.

"When I was visiting a local free clinic, a man came in whose blood sugar was sky high. He knew it was dangerous, but said he couldn't afford all five medications his doctor prescribed. The one he could afford wasn't doing enough. That man is exactly who we're here to help."

"The pharmacy speaks to Jesus' healing ministry, and to the church's desire to promote the health of all persons in the community," said the Rev. Cyndy Garn, chair of the pharmacy's board of directors.

Ough and Zaenger note that the Columbus pharmacy is modeled in part on a similar one in Cincinnati begun several years ago by the Roman Catholic Order of St. Vincent de Paul. The bishop said the facility at Livingston Church is the first in the conference's long-range vision of a network of free pharmacies.

Zaenger says the pharmacy will initially operate a few hours three days per week. It will later increase to three eight-hour days per week.


The annual conference has an impressive line-up of partners supporting the pharmacy.

Franklin County and the Columbus Medical Association contributed $50,000 each to help get the pharmacy started. Hospital partners include the Ohio State University Medical Center, Mount Carmel Health System, Nationwide Children's Hospital, and OhioHealth, a faith-based, nonprofit that brings together a group of health care facilities, including many with Methodist links. Access Health Columbus and the Columbus Foundation also are supporting the pharmacy.

Zaenger said he felt "called by the Holy Spirit" to undertake the work at the charitable pharmacy.

"I had been in a consulting pharmacy situation for 20 years," he said. "I was at the stage of seeking what's next when I heard a presentation about the pharmacy at Access Health Columbus and expressed an interest in being involved. Things unfolded from there."

Inventory and service

Inventory for the pharmacy will come from varied sources. "We will purchase some medications, especially generic drugs that tend not to cost too much," Zaenger said. The pharmacist said he also will receive unused medicine from extended-care health facilities, samples from doctors’ offices and some manufacturers' assistance programs."

Patients will go through an enrollment process to become qualified to receive prescription medication from the pharmacy.

United Methodists also can support Dunlap’s work here.

*Wright is a writer and consultant for the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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