Uniquely Positioned to Serve the Underserved

Published On: March 4, 2022|Categories: Blog, Member Stories|
Inspire Pharmacy staff photo

Inspire Pharmacy has been serving its community since 2016, focusing on those who are underserved.

While Inspire Pharmacy is a relatively new pharmacy, it helps to serve the mission of a non-profit organization that has been around for a while – Third Street Clinic. Founded by a University of North Dakota residency student in 1989, the clinic seeks to improve the health and well-being of underserved residents in the greater Grand Forks area.

We recently spoke to Inspire Pharmacy’s pharmacist-in-charge, Jana Hanson, and Third Street Clinic’s executive director, Kristen Sanders, on how this special partnership has grown and their plans for making an even bigger impact on the community.

It All Started With an Idea

Photo of pharmacist Judy SwisherIt all began in 2014 with Judy Swisher, a recently retired pharmacist who served on Third Street Clinic’s Board of Directors. Many in the organization had felt the clinic had drifted away from patient care, the original mission of the non-profit. In an effort to restore the mission, Swisher proposed opening a pharmacy. The clinic soon applied for grants for prescription medication assistance to help finance the pharmacy.

“There was a gap in the community, there weren’t any prescription medication programs.” said Kristen Sanders, executive director of Third Street Clinic.

Inspire Pharmacy Opens, No Foolin’

On April 1, 2016, Inspire Pharmacy opened its doors. However, a unique state law which benefits community pharmacy meant Third Street Clinic couldn’t open completely on its own. The 1963 law states a pharmacy must be at least 51 percent owned by a registered pharmacist. For this reason, there are very few chain pharmacies in North Dakota.

Photo of pharmacist Jana HansonTo comply with the 51 percent rule, Swisher stepped in as Inspire Pharmacy’s first pharmacist-in-charge, a role now held by Jana Hanson. The two had worked together prior to Inspire Pharmacy’s inception.

“I liked the concept of working in a pharmacy where I could help other people,” said Hanson.

Inspire Pharmacy is open to everyone, with a focus on helping people without insurance who would otherwise be turned away. This includes people who are low income, jobless, homeless, recently incarcerated, or struggling with addiction and severe mental health issues like schizophrenia.

Often times prescriptions don’t transfer for those who are released from prison or a treatment center. Inspire Pharmacy refers them to nearby clinics to obtain new prescriptions that can often times be filled at no cost.

From Growing Pains to Growth

But as is often the case with any new business, it took a while for Inspire Pharmacy to find its footing. The store filled a small number of prescriptions in 2016, incurring a net loss of $213,000.

“At the time we wondered if it was ever going to get off the ground,” said Hanson, who can now joke about the early growing pains.

Photo of Inspire Pharmacy

Inspire Pharmacy has made tremendous strides ever since. A major contributor to the pharmacy’s growth has been a reduction in program costs. In the past four years, the pharmacy and Third Street Clinic have collaborated to find treatment solutions and alternatives that are affordable for low-income, underserved patients. Sanders cites a recent patient case where Hanson and her staff consulted with the doctor to change a prescription to Coumadin as an alternative for Eliquis, an expensive blood thinner.

Word-of-mouth has also played a big role in Inspire Pharmacy’s growth. Hanson recalls a mother who recently came into the store to treat her baby’s ear infection. According to Hanson, the mother said, “I know the money we spend here goes to help other people. Do you have information I can give to other people to encourage them to come here?” Hanson gave the woman business cards for her to distribute to the community.

This type of free advertising coupled with reduced program costs has been a winning combination. The pharmacy now does $3 million in sales per year.

Photo of Kristen Sanders, Third Street Clinic

Third Street Clinic Executive Director, Kristen Sanders (right), is always looking for growth opportunities.

“In six years, I think that is tremendous growth,” said Sanders. “I think they (pharmacy staff) have done extremely well.”

While pleased with how far Inspire Pharmacy has come, Sanders and Hanson are not content.

They are working on securing grants to expand beyond their current 985 square foot facility in order to offer vaccinations, cancer screenings, and other clinical services to further support the mission of Third Street Clinic. And while they just started selling CBD gummies and tinctures, they’d like more space to offer additional OTC items like teas and essential oils.

A leading architectural firm in the area has offered to help with the building expansion pro bono.

“My office is a closet. I like to call myself Harriet Potter because I’m right next to the stairs,” joked Sanders.

Finding the Right People

Additionally, Sanders is looking to raise money to help fund other aspects of Inspire Pharmacy’s expansion, including additional staffing. The goal is to hire medical professionals who are willing to take the time to sit down and offer true counseling to patients. Specifically, Sanders is eyeing a certain physician who has recently been fired.

“Do you know why we want her?” Sanders asked rhetorically. “She was fired for taking too long with her patients. That’s the type of doctor I want! She’s such an asset to Grand Forks.”

As is often the case anywhere in the U.S., most physicians in the greater Grand Forks area only have 10 minutes to spend with patients.

“What Third Street and Inspire get to do together by our tight partnership is help a patient have a better quality of life,” added Sanders. “We’re not looking for a quick fix.”

It might not be a new partnership anymore, but it feels like the journey of Inspire Pharmacy and Third Street Clinic has only just begun.