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Charitable clinic at work
Arkadelphia, Ark. —
Gurdon native Amanda Davis was 26 years old when she learned she had a rare liver disease called primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC), which allows impurities to spread throughout her body.
The bile seeps all the way out to Davis’ skin, causing her to itch everywhere, non-stop. It got so serious that she could no longer wear the clothes she needed to work at US Bank in Arkadelphia, and she was forced to take medical leave and, ultimately, lose her job.
Doctors told her PBC could lead to her death if the disease went totally untreated, but a liver transplant might save her life. They also informed her of Ursodiol, a pill on the market that would keep her liver from failing.
The medication, however, comes with a steep price — $500 a month. But with no job and no insurance, Davis had no means to pay for the Ursodiol.
So she turned to the Clark County Charitable Health Service, where volunteer director Cindy Jackson offered assistance. The clinic, located next to Dollar General on North 10th Street, houses the non-profit organization that, according to its mission statement, “strives to improve the quality of life for the medically uninsured people of the Clark County community” and to do so by “providing affordable general medical care, preventative medicine and health education.”
After researching the medication Davis needed and contacting the pharmaceutical company, it was learned that the company would only knock $20 off the price of each bottle — a drop-in-the-bucket discount, especially for someone with no job or health insurance.
Jackson recalled the first time she met Davis and heard of her situation. “I felt overwhelmed by the immensity of her problems and by the fact that our hands were tied with provided her with the medication she needed, because no matter where we looked we couldn’t find an ongoing source for it.”
Jackson said she was “dumbfounded” when she learned of the cost of the pills.
“I don’t see how anybody, even paying 20 percent of that [with insurance], could pay for those medications. I was further dumbfounded by the drug company’s almost callous response that they just don’t provide it on drug assistance programs.”
Asked how she felt when she learned of the measly $20 discount, she said, “All I could do was smile and shake my head, because that’s awful. To a person with limited income, that’s nothing.”
Only two months later, another woman with PBC — who had also recently lost her job and, thus, her insurance — walked into the clinic for assistance; but again, the $500-a-month cost associated with Ursodiol was too steep a price for both unemployed and uninsured women.
It was a rare moment, the clinic’s inability to assist its clients with affordable medication. The clinic currently takes care of 154 uninsured Clark County residents, and nearly all of the medications’ prices can be reduced for those patients. Some can even be given for free.
Jackson noted that the clinic does not have a pharmacy in its office; instead, the medications are prescribed through each patient’s private physician.
The best offer the clinic could negotiate with the makers of Ursodiol was one free month of the pill, “but we can’t get it ongoing, and [Davis] needs it every month … She’s doing everything she can to stay healthy, but unfortunately our hands our tied, and we’d love to do more.
So Jackson contacted a local government official who suggested the clinic solicit local organizations, churches and individuals about donating money to get Davis’ prescription.
“We’ve called our representatives, we’ve called the drug company. I honestly don’t know what the next step is unless someone donates money to get Amanda the drugs she needs.”
The Clark County Charitable Health Service, funded strictly by donations, helps provide basic health care for Clark County residents without any form of insurance, including MediCare and Medicaid. Patients must be approved for eligibility. They must meet income requirements based on the national poverty level. For example, a one-person family with an annual income that does not exceed $20,000 or a four-person family with an annual income that does not exceed $40,800.
All services provided through the clinic are performed in the private offices of local volunteer health care providers, and the services are provided in Clark County five days a week.
Currently, eight churches provide donations to the health service on a regular basis, and about $1,000 is donated by individuals each year. Additionally, the organization has received grants from Southern Bancorp, Alcoa Community Foundation, Arkansas Conference of the Methodist Church Peace with Justice Grant, and the Clark County Community Foundation. Beginning next year, the clinic will receive a grant from United Way of Clark County.
The chances of getting Davis and the other PBC patient a cheaper price from Ursodiol are “slim to none,” Jackson said, adding, “I think our chances with our local community are probably better, simply because our community gives.”
Donations can be sent to Southern Financial Partners, 615 Main St., Arkadelphia, AR 71923 with the check marked “Clark County Charitable Health Service.” Donations may also be sent directly to the health service clinic, 1301 N. 10th St.