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When Melissa K. Smith was first introduced to the Partners in Health Campaign last year, she knew exactly where she wanted to send her donations. The indigent pharmacy program, which provides patients with critical supplies of medications if the patients can’t afford them, has helped her patients with their prescriptions for years, and she wanted to start a start a fund to support the program for patients in need of help.
As a nurse practitioner at the Heart Institute and a faculty member at the School of Nursing, Smith had first-hand experience with heart failure patients that did not have the money to pay for the sometimes six or more medications they need to take each day.
“The patients were afraid to say they didn’t have the money for their medication,” Smith said. “Sometimes, they would not tell the doctors but felt comfortable telling me. Other times they didn’t say a word. Usually it’s the ones who don’t say anything that need the most help.”
Smith now makes it a priority to ask each patient what type of insurance they have and whether they can afford the prescriptions. When they can’t, and they meet the indigent qualifications set by Patient Accounting, she signs them up for the indigent pharmacy program.
The patients fill out a form and if they qualify, the payment is waived or reduced for prescriptions and co-pays. The appropriate care provider must complete the indigent medication request and the form must accompany written prescriptions to the appropriate Vanderbilt pharmacy.
Smith says that, since heart failure is a chronic disease that can lead to other serious conditions if it is not treated correctly,  she is determined to make sure her patients do not suffer from diabetes, hypertension, and coronary heart disease as a result of not having access to the proper medications. Smith said she refers patients to the indigent pharmacy several times a month.
She said the impact of the program is immeasurable.
 “I have patients who are homeless, or have hearing and speech problems that use the indigent pharmacy once a month. One of my elderly patients can’t afford the co-pays for his 20 medications he has to take each month,” she said.
“If it wasn’t for this great program providing assistance for medications, this chronic condition would leave our heart failure patients in the hospital. I would rather see Vanderbilt help our patients with their prescriptions than admitting them to the ER because they can’t afford the medications.”
Smith heard about Partners in Health at the perfect time. She spends the majority of her time teaching nursing students and nursing practitioner specialties, but she still spends one day each week with her Heart Institute patients.
As a new faculty member, she was looking for a way to consistently donate to a charitable organization but says she was always discouraged from giving because she thought a large sum of money was necessary to make a difference. She was relieved to discover her Partners in Health contributions could be set up as a payroll deduction which allows her to give smaller amounts year round.
“I don’t have thousands of dollars to start a  scholarship fund
“I don’t have thousands of dollars to start a scholarship fund but I do have something to give that can make a difference,” she said. “Knowing I can give a little out of my check each month makes it so much easier. If you think about giving the cost of a few lunches, or something you won’t miss out of your check, it could really help a department. If everyone gave a little, it would go a long way.”
She encourages employees who don’t have hands-on experience like she has, with an area in need, to give to something they care about.
“Think about what’s near and dear to your heart and direct your giving there. It always touches me to see families waiting in the ICU and some of them don’t have money for food or shelter. I would love to give to a patient family fund, anything at the Children’s Hospital, or to a School of Nursing scholarship.”
But for now Smith’s motivation behind her gifts to the 2010 Partner’s in Health campaign is still her heart patients.
“I love my heart patients,” said Smith. “They are so grateful for everything Vanderbilt has done for them and they are so thankful for the help from the indigent pharmacy program. It really makes a difference.”
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A heart for her patients
Melissa Smith sees her donations help patients get the medications they need
by Rhonda Kelley
joe howell
Partners in Health campaign heats up