Vanessa* sat in the conference room with her head in her hands. She had recently come back from the hospital where she had been written a prescription for insulin- the cost would be $300 to fill the script. “What am I going to do?”, she said, tears running down her cheeks. I called everywhere, and through some miracle, had gotten her an appointment to see a sliding-scale doctor, but it was two weeks away. In the meantime we had to solve the problem.
We started with a generous donation of time from someone who could provide her dietary counseling and strips to monitor her sugar with, but still, why was her medication so expensive? She didn’t have Medicaid, so essentially she was being asked to pay in order to merely survive as a person currently staying in a shelter.
Luckily, two more pharmacist friends later, we discovered that her prescription had been written incorrectly. It was written for 12 vials of insulin and no refills. It should have been 1 vial of insulin and 12 refills. The prescription was demanding that she buy 12 vials, all at once, with no refrigerator to keep them in; a mistake that could have been fatal. We later found the vials, sold over the counter at our local Wal-Mart for only $28 each.
While I felt lucky that we were able to get her covered until her appointment, I couldn’t help but feel angry with the doctor who didn’t take the time to say “You’re experiencing homelessness right now? It might be easier for you to get this medication over the counter, one vial at a time, for $28 instead of me writing you this incorrect, very expensive prescription that will cause you to worry and cry for several days”. That one incorrect prescription could have wiped out Love Win’s prescription assistance funding for 2 full months. I feel like we have to do better. As our community member,* Aiden, with type 1 diabetes (known as juvenile diabetes), who upon receiving testing strips through Love Wins prescription assistance program, said “Thank you, I get to live for another month.”
People experiencing homelessness have higher rates of diabetes than most typical populations, but why? In our personal experience, here at the center, we’ve found that a lot of free food donations are carb heavy and often sugar heavy. Pastries, cookies and bread come to us easily; lean meats, fresh vegetables and fruit are harder to come by.
We’ve been serving breakfast and lunch every day, with a focus on making sure that there are healthy diet choices, and we’ve been very fortunate to have donors who go out of their way to bring us fresh, healthy food. We don’t have the constraints that many soup kitchens have, as we’re cooking for an average of 45 people a day instead of 250, so we have the ability to take the dietary concerns of others into account in a way that larger agencies don’t.
We’re not sure if the rise in attendance of folks with serious dietary issues is a fluke, or if it is directly related to our ability to tailor our meal plans to suit a wide variety of needs: soft foods for people without teeth, healthy foods for people watching their diet, vegetarian and vegan options, pork-free options, and we take allergies into account as well. Focusing on diet is the first defense we have against life-threatening, long term illnesses.
We have also been very fortunate to have a new volunteer, a pharmacist, who is meeting one –on-one with our community members to discuss their dietary needs and medications. She’s become very popular around here, where straight answers are hard to find, and time to provide those answers, even harder. If you would like to contribute to the health of our community members via healthy food or prescription assistance, please click here for our donation page. We could also use multi-vitamins if you would like to donate in kind. When our community is healthy, everyone benefits; we all win.
* Names changed to protect privacy.