New Program Could Be Solution For Rural Communities Without Pharmacies

May 1, 2019, 7:49 PM

GREEN RIVER, Utah — For all the memories inside Carol Riches home, it’s her laugh that’s the most memorable.

“We’ve been here for 60 some years now,” she said, with the kind of laugh that makes you instantly smile.

Her laugh hasn’t changed much in all that time, kind of like the town she lives in.

Green River, a two-exit town off I-70 in Emery County, is the kind of place where even locals admit things don’t really change.

Carol Riches

Carol Riches

Even still, for Riches, it’s home.

“I’ve lived here so long now, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” she said with another laugh.

Even if somewhere else meant better access to the prescription medication she and her family need.

“Oh yeah. If you go to Price, your day is gone,” she said.

She isn’t alone.

Green River residents who needed a prescription filled have to travel somewhere else.

There isn’t a pharmacy in town.

“The nearest pharmacy is 55 miles distance, so that’s a minimum of a two hours round trip,” said Paul Dunham, who is the director of the Green River Medical Center.

Paula Dunham

Paula Dunham

Dunham said not having a pharmacy nearby is the biggest complaint she gets from residents.

Going to Price or Moab to fill a simple prescription can take a lot of effort.

Especially for those in fixed incomes who are watching as prices increase.

“For people on limited incomes, our seniors, or under-served or under-insured patients, that almost makes it impossible to obtain the prescription,” said Dunham.

However, for a place not used to things changing, something big is just getting started.

“I can’t tell you how excited we are,” said Dunham.

Using a computer with a web camera and a specific piece of software, Dunham dialed in Donavan Smith.

Smith talking with a pharmacy technician in Green River

Smith talking with a pharmacy technician in Green River

“Hello, just checking in seeing how things are going,” said Smith from his end of the line.

Smith is the director of pharmacy for the Wayne Community Health Center in Bicknell, close to two hours from Green River.

“We’re really just small fish in a very, very large pond,” he said.

For a small fish, though, he’s in charge of a new program that’s the first of its kind in Utah.

It’s called Tele Pharm.

Basically, from his pharmacy in Bicknell, through that video call, Smith is also the pharmacist in Green River.

Technicians in Green River can dispense medication to patients after consulting with and getting Smith’s approval.

Smith talking with technicians in Green River

Smith talking with technicians in Green River

“I can zoom in and look at any part of that prescription,” said Smith while looking at his computer screen at a test prescription a doctor would write. “They then also send us a picture of the label. So now I can actually check that prescription label against the prescription.”

Smith said he first heard about this idea at a pharmacy conference and got permission from Utah’s Board of Pharmacy to give it a try.

It could become a model for many other rural communities in Utah that don’t have a pharmacy.

“It’s exciting. It’s nice to be able to take that first step. Maybe we can pioneer and lead the charge in this,” said Smith.

The two facilities in Bicknell and Green River already had a working relationship through the Association of Utah Community Health Centers, so it was easier for them to agree to try this shared pharmacy idea.

“If we’re not taking care of patients, then we’re not doing our job. And that’s really what this is all about,” he said.

It all sounds good to Riches.

She found out last week those long trips for medication are over.

“I am really excited. It’s really good,” she said.

The program’s grand opening is May 6th.

There will be a ribbon cutting at 1 p.m. at the Green River Medical Center to officially announce the start of the program.

For Riches, that alone is reason enough to laugh.

“This is really wonderful,” she said with another laugh.

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New Program Could Be Solution For Rural Communities Without Pharmacies