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Pharmacist knows help can heal

It's a two-way process as Mike Strickland dispenses pills and medications through his window at the Free Clinic of Southwest Washington.
/ Source: The Vancouver Columbian

Vancouver, Wash.It's a two-way process as Mike Strickland dispenses pills and medications through his window at the Free Clinic of Southwest Washington.

People in pain will be feeling better after their visit, but the volunteer pharmacist gets something out of the transaction, too.

That's why Strickland has been a clinic volunteer for 15 years, a commitment that was recognized by Gov. Christine Gregoire.

Strickland was one of 46 Washington residents to receive the Governor's Award of Excellence for outstanding volunteer service recently in Olympia.

Strickland is among 553 people who volunteer at the Free Clinic of Southwest Washington, 4100 Plomondon St.

And he is one of the few original volunteers who was involved in the start of the clinic.

"My dad was a pharmacist who told me to give back," said Strickland, a Ridgefield resident who works at Walgreens at Fourth Plain Boulevard and Main Street.

Strickland said he'd been concerned about the sick people he saw come into his pharmacy without money or insurance. So, when the opportunity came along to help out at the fledgling free clinic, "It was like they read my mind," Strickland said.

He wasn't the first pharmacist to work a shift in the clinic, but "I think I was the second or third," he said.

Strickland has continued to work one evening shift a month at the clinic, which is open from 9 a.m. to noon Wednesdays and from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The power of 'thank you'

The joy of helping has kept him coming back for 15 years, he said. Some of the pharmacy customers he sees during his day job will argue about regulations, payment procedures or service.

Even his worst shift at the free clinic can make those workday problems disappear, Strickland said.

"A person says, 'Thank you,' and wipes that all out," Strickland said. "That's when you know why you're here."

The clinic had a modest start at what is now the Clark County Health Department. The clinic also spent some time at what is now Memorial Health Center on Main Street.

During its early years, the free clinic's dispensary it isn't technically a pharmacy, Strickland notes operated off a couple of hospital carts, and was once based in a storage closet.

Now it is part of the Jim Parsley Community Center, which has helped accommodate a growing clientele.

"I saw seven, eight or nine clients that first night" 15 years ago, Strickland said.

"Now, we generally see 60 to 70 people, and on busy nights, we've done up to 100," Strickland said. "Sometimes, they're lined up out the door."

Almost all of them see a pharmacist before they leave. That's why Strickland's work is so important, said Tom Ohling, the clinic's volunteer coordinator.

"We always need every discipline, but we have a desperate need for pharmacists," Ohling said.

Regardless of which doctor or other practitioner treats a patient, "The healing takes place because they walk out with a prescription," Ohling said.

Ohling said the free clinic will help about 13,000 people this year. But the need is much greater than that: There are more than 45,000 people in Clark County without health insurance.

Strickland sees those issues reflected in some familiar faces. Some of the people he serves at the free clinic including two in his most recent shift Thursday night used to be paying customers at the pharmacy.

"They lost their insurance," Strickland said.

Clark County honorees

After a 14-year lapse, Washington resumed a volunteer recognition program this year. The 46 award-winners included three Clark County residents:

* C.T. Thurston started working with RSVP three years ago as a health insurance benefits adviser. Seeing that many clients couldn't pay for prescriptions, he helped start the Rx Assistance Program in Clark County. In the first three months of 2005, the potential savings for people helped by the program was $639,175.

* Joanne Canillo-Lee is on the board of directors of the Human Services Council. Her support of the Volunteer Center has helped it raise funds and connect with the corporate community.

* Mike Strickland is a pharmacist who has volunteered at the Free Clinic of Southwest Washington for 15 years.