My commitment to serve the community as a Patient Assistance Advocate at one of Philadelphia’s public health centers has been rewarding, unforgettable and enjoyable. My duty involves directly communicating with different pharmaceutical companies to help the uninsured gain free access to expensive medications that they need. Providing this access to care for patients has been a journey that I consider one of the highlights of my life.
When I joined the Health Corps, I signed up for an 11-month commitment in which my goal was to understand the impact of healthcare policies on getting access to quality care, especially among those who are uninsured. So far, the past 7 months of service have exposed me to the bigger picture and some little details that I didn’t expect. In many cases uninsured patients buy their medications out of pocket, but cannot afford the needed supply. Instead they would buy small quantities and stretch out the intake, meaning taking little quantities to last them longer, as opposed to the dosages that the doctors recommend.
A patient once came to me and said, “I went to the local pharmacy and this medicine costs $360 per month! I recently lost my job, yet I need it.” I told him that I would do my best to make sure that he gets it. I filled out his application and sent it to the pharmaceutical company that provides the medication. A few weeks later, the company approved his application and agreed to provide him with a year supply of free medication. The medicine was shipped to my health center, and the patient came to pick it up. As he walked away, he waved and said “Paul, thanks a lot my friend. See you in a couple of months.” I told him that he might not find me when he comes back, since my days of service will soon be over. He stopped at the door, walked back to me and said “In that case Mr. Paul, I have to say goodbye. I don’t know what I could have done without your help”, and firmly shook my hand.
I wonder whether our paths will ever cross again, and what kind of impact or how much change I made in his life, or those of the more than 300 patients that I have come in contact with. Every day I appreciate the opportunity to serve my community. I have also realized that it’s the little things that I do and the principles that I live by that matter the most; being patient, having a passion and being deeply committed to whatever I do.
-Paul Gwengi, Philadelphia Department of Public Health