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Agencies mobilize to provide meds for seniors

Southern Oregon agencies for the needy are trying to weave a new safety net for seniors cut off from prescription drugs Feb. — following the failure of tax-raising Measure 28.

After an emergency meeting of 13 agencies on Monday, Salvation Army of Medford is emerging as the point agency for donations and for arranging cut-rate drugs through local pharmacies, said its director John Van Cleef.

We're already set up to assist seniors with drug vouchers and to handle fund accounting, so it's a natural fit, said Van Cleef. Last year the situation was tight; this year it's a crisis, but the silver lining is seeing the community respond to help their neighbors.

In Josephine County, the effort is being handled by Gospel Rescue Mission, which is organizing fund-raising among churches and setting up a voucher system for the eligible elderly to get drugs from Safeway at the drugs' cost plus 10 percent, the mission's Keith Heck told agency representatives who attended the meeting.

The strategy is being adopted in Jackson County, with donations being sought from churches and normal fund-raising channels.

Pharmacies are being contacted for discounts, said Berta Varble of Rogue Valley Council of Governments, which administered money for the Medically Needy Program.

With the loss of &

36;4.8 million in Jackson and Josephine counties over the next five months, more than 1,500 seniors and disabled have been cut off from medications, basic living expenses and in-home help, including home-delivered meals. This will be followed July — by a much larger cut of &

36;28.5 million.

On another front, the agencies of both counties are busy building a pool of volunteers and setting up training to handle the considerable paperwork of applying for needy meds programs, where manufacturers offer 20 to 70 percent discounts on specified drugs, based on an applicant's income. Varble is also seeking foundation grants for the project.

The coalition of agencies includes RVCOG, RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program), Providence Medford Medical Center, Jackson County Mental Health, Rogue Valley Medical Center Mental Health, Asante Health System, Lifespan Rescue, DASIL and Parish Nursing. Agencies from Josephine County include Josephine County Community Action, Three Rivers Community Hospital and Gospel Rescue Mission.

The agencies leaders decided against a central volunteer entry point, so volunteers may contact the agency of their choice to offer help. Applicants for the needy medications program will need to submit a copy of their tax form and expect the paperwork to take about an hour, including getting a doctor's signature, with a turnaround time of about a month before they get discount drugs.

In the interim, affected seniors or disabled people may get discount drug vouchers locally by calling the Salvation Army at 773-8149. Those donating may send checks to Salvation Army, 304 Beatty St., Medford OR 97501, with the memo notation, Elderly Needy Assistance Fund. To donate by credit card, call 773-6965.

While help for medications is the most pressing expense, Varble said donations are urgently needed for co-pays and deductibles on medical expenses and for rent, utilities, shelter, meal delivery and medical equipment.

In addition to paperwork for needy medications, said Varble, volunteers are needed to pick up and deliver the drugs, drive people to doctor appointments, provide respite care for caretakers of the ill, homebound people, deliver meals, help at meal sites and make friendly reassurance visits and calls.

Calling it a sad situation, Pam Swisher of Lifespan Respite said her 16-member advisory board is recruiting volunteers to help provide respite to caregivers. The community has been good in the past and if they're aware, I know they'll step up to the plate again, even if they just volunteer a few hours.

Varble agreed: There is a high level of concern and cooperation to make this all happen. We really need personal heroes now to check on neighbors who may need help. After that, what's really needed is for people to pick up the phone and call our Congress people and tell them the states need help. Then call state legislators.

Agencies with immediate volunteer needs

ACCESS, Inc. Community Action Program, 779-6691

C. E. R. V. S., 779-8564

Community Works, Disability Advocacy for Social and Independent Living (DASIL), 608-6746

Food and Friends Meals on Wheels Program, 474-5947, 779-6785, 664-6674.

Gospel Rescue Mission, Grants Pass, 476-0082

Handicapped Awareness and Support League, 479-4257.

Josephine County Community Action, 474-5440.

Lifespan Respite of Jackson County, 821-8764.

Retired Senior Volunteer Program, Rogue Valley Manor Community Services, 779-5257.

Retired Senior Volunteer Program of Josephine County, 955-5547.

Rogue Valley Council of Governments, 474-5947, 779-6785, 664-6674.

Salvation Army, 773-6965.

Ways to make a difference in troubled times

Ask your church, employer or service club to put a short paragraph in their bulletin asking people to assist and donate.

Throw a special fund-raising event, party or yard sale.

Invite a speaker to make a presentation to your group or workplace.

Talk with co-workers, neighbors, family and friends about how to help.

Reach out to individuals losing vital services and ask them what they need.

John Darling is a free-lance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org