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'There’s no doubt in my mind someone will die because of this': Lake Co. pharmacy loses funding, set to close

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Posted at 10:32 PM, Aug 23, 2022

LAKE COUNTY, Ohio — A Lake County program that saves lives will have to shut its doors at the end of September due to lack of funding.

Joel Lucia is the president and founder of the nonprofit organization Prescription Assistance Program that's located in Concord Township.

“We are a licensed pharmacy. We started this in 2008. I was health commissioner for the Lake County Health District. All this medication we have here comes from a pharmacy who services nursing homes. We also get it from Americare and Direct Relief,” Lucia said.

The pharmacy receives the excess medication and then ships it out to people’s homes, at a cost of $10 for the shipping fee, but the 84-year-old said if people can’t afford it, he just delivers it for free.

“These people are on social security. The people we are serving are not the super wealthy people. These are people who need help,” he said. “I’m delivering medication, personally, to these homes and these aren’t people who are taking advantage of the situation these are people that need help they need the medication to stay alive and it breaks my heart.”

The prescriptions are for cancer, diabetes, heart problems and so much more. The only medicine the pharmacy doesn't have is narcotics. It serves more than 700 people throughout Lake County and surrounding areas each year.

Rich Semtelli is a licensed pharmacist who has worked at the pharmacy since it opened its doors. He said he started working there because he saw the dark side of pharmaceuticals when customers couldn’t afford the prescriptions they needed.

“That’s the saddest thing when you get someone on social security, on a fixed income, and you tell them their prescription is going to be $190 and they just stare at you and say, ‘I can’t do that. I don’t have that.’”

But if Lucia can’t secure funding, the doors of the organization will close at the end of September and the medication will have to be destroyed.

“We just lost our funding,” he said.

The agency that had promised the $60,000 each year for the next three years told Lucia it could no longer afford it.

Lucia said he has exhausted his options.

“We tried to go back to the Lake County Health District where we started, we tried the Board of County Commissioners, we tried Dan Troy, our representative, and we just can’t get funding,” said Lucia.

It’s a hard pill to swallow for him and his employees.

“The people that make the decisions on what they’re going to fund, we kind of get to the bottom of the list there, and to me, it’s very short sighted,” said Semtelli. "There’s no doubt in my mind someone will die because of this."

Lucia is holding out hope that someone, somewhere will help fund the next year.

“For $60,000, we will provide $600,000 or $700,000 for medication for the community,” he said. “There is no program, no program, that can match what we can do dollar for dollar, so I’m hoping someone will come through within the next month and help fund us at least for one year.”

News 5 reached out to the Lake County Health District for comment but hasn't heard back.