This is part of our partner interview series featuring Barry Wilson of Family Care Health Centers in St. Louis, MO.
After 37 years of practice, Pharmacist Barry Wilson BS, MS, JD made a career decision. Having worked in a variety of settings, including pharmaceutical manufacturing, small neighborhood stores, chain stores, and a nuclear pharmacy, Wilson decided to focus his work on improving pharmaceutical access for indigent patients. He now serves as the Chief Pharmacy Officer of Family Care Health Centers in St. Louis, MO – a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) that provides care to more than 19,000 patients annually. Since assuming this position in 2002, Wilson has enabled over $7,000,000 in free medications through Patient Assistance Programs for his center’s patients and over $300,000 in medical material aid from Direct Relief USA. Today, with 50 years of experience, Wilson offers his perspective on pharmacy practices and why it’s important to support the healthcare safety net.
“I see the Pharmacy making as many prescribing options as possible available to our providers so that they can treat our indigent patients in the same manner and using the same drugs that they would use to treat patients who could afford their medications”, said Wilson. Family Care Health Centers accomplishes this through a combination of drug company sample programs and coupons, Patient Assistance Programs, specially priced 340B drugs, bargain priced medications found on the internet and supplies from Direct Relief.
In addition to his work at Family Care Health Centers, Wilson has served as an Adjunct Clinical Instructor for the St. Louis College of Pharmacy since 2006 and has been a member of the Affiliate Clinical Faculty at Southern Illinois University (Edwardsville) School of Pharmacy since 2010. He is an active member of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, the National Association of Community Health Centers, Volunteers in Healthcare, the Missouri Bar Association, and the Association of Clinicians for the Underserved.
We had the opportunity to interview Barry Wilson about his 50 years of service to see how pharmacy practices have evolved over the last five decades and what motivates him to continue working at an FQHC.
Direct Relief: How many years have you been practicing as a pharmacist?
Wilson: I have practiced pharmacy for 50 years. Helping our homeless, uninsured & indigent patients strongly motivates me. They have nowhere else to go and I try not to fail them. I grew up poor. My dad never went to high school and worked from job to job. I remember being nice to that awful kid next door so he would let me come over to watch TV. Our family didn’t have a car so we took lots of buses. We could not afford a 50 cent plastic kazoo to share between myself and my brother for our grade school’s music class. I know how bad everyone felt; me, my brother, and my parents. As a result of my upbringing I am extremely sympathetic towards our homeless, uninsured, and indigent patients. I try to not put our patients in the position where they have to decide between food, rent, or medicine.
Direct Relief: What motivates you to continue practicing pharmacy?
Wilson: Helping to shape the senior pharmacy students who rotate through our pharmacy is both a source of pleasure and a motivation for me to continue practicing pharmacy. I try to show them that there is a much more rewarding setting for practicing pharmacy than a large chain store. I let them know that when they work to support underserved patients they can look at themselves in the mirror at the end of the day and say “I did well today”. Sometimes if I’m lucky I make a convert.
Direct Relief: How have pharmacy practices changed over the past 50 years?
Wilson: Long ago things were done by hand. There were no computers, counting machines, or cascading enzyme systems. Medication options were fewer and labels were typed by hand – even hand written sometimes. Pharmacy School was a 4 year course rather than the 6 years it is now. There were small neighborhood pharmacies where the owner/pharmacist might work 10-12 hours a day. Back then the pharmacist really knew his customers; not just their names but everything about them. Now everything is electronic, impersonal, and pharmacists operate at a much more rapid pace. There are new medicines, new diseases, and new cures. 50 years ago pharmacies sold nothing but medicine.
Direct Relief: Can you give an example of something that you have seen in your work over the years that you felt made a significant impact on improving the health of patients at your facility?
Wilson: The growth of FQHCs and free clinics that are dedicated to providing affordable and accessible comprehensive primary health care services to the residents of their local area has been a large factor in improving the health of the community. FQHCs have a Board of Managers where 51% of the managers must be patients of the facility. This ensures that the interests of patients are the primary interest of the Health Centers. FQHCs offer access to comprehensive primary care, obstetrics and gynecology services, pediatrics, internal medicine, nutrition counseling, WIC, free pregnancy testing, family planning, outreach, mental health counseling, pharmacy and medications, HIV testing, and counseling.
The establishment and growth of groups such as the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, the National Association of Community Health Centers, Volunteers in Healthcare, and the Association of Clinicians for the Underserved have been of great value to FQHCs and their patients. Direct Relief has been especially helpful in that they make non-prescription products available as well as medicines. If a patient needs a pair of crutches, knee supporter, cough syrup, eye drops, etc. and has no money to purchase them their treatment plan will not be successful. Direct Relief provides many of these health items which save the patient from the choice of food, rent or needed non-prescription health items.
Family Care Health Centers is a long-time partner of Direct Relief. Since 2009, Direct Relief has provided the center with 54 shipments of medical material assistance valued at more than $1 million. Donations include inhalers, insulin syringes and needles, cold and flu prevention products, prescription medications, wound care supplies, and personal hygiene items.