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Greater Cincinnati's only free pharmacy earning statewide recognition amid pandemic

Posted at 5:21 PM, Dec 28, 2020

CINCINNATI — For retired machinist Charles McClelon, the St. Vincent de Paul pharmacy on Bank Street in the West End is a lifeline.

"They helped me so much," said McClelon, who lives with diabetes and requires regular treatment and medication. "Those shots get very expensive, and if you don't have the right income coming in, it's hard to get. But Vincent de Paul worked out ways I could get stuff like that. I appreciate them very much."

But filling much-needed prescriptions for those without or with insufficient health insurance is only partially why the Ohio Charitable Healthcare Network named the pharmacy's founder, Mike Espel, the state's Pharmacist of the Year.

When he founded the pharmacy in 2006, it filled roughly 7,000 prescriptions a year, all from donated medications. But in years since, Espel has expanded the facility's scope beyond filling prescriptions. The pharmacy now has clinical programs that improve patient health, keeping them away from hospital and emergency room visits. They estimate these programs save Tri-State hospitals more than $2 million each year.

After the coronavirus pandemic hit Greater Cincinnati, Espel saw an opportunity to do even more.

"I reached out to the Deaconess Foundation and asked them if we could borrow their nurse practitioner," he said. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Espel's clientele has doubled.

"Our metrics show our patients go to the hospitals less, go to emergency rooms less," Espel said.

It's worked for McClelon, who went home Monday smiling more than the pharmacist honored by peers around the state for his work.

While the St. Vincent de Paul pharmacy is still accepting new clients, those interested must submit to a screening and certification process to demonstrate need.