Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.|
Ray Norris is the pharmacist at the Community Free Clinic of Decatur-Morgan County.
Pharmacist’s ‘trick-or-treating’ aids patients at Morgan County’s free clinic
Danielle Komis Palmer
Ray Norris jokes that he “trick-or-treats” at local doctor’s offices, though he never comes back with candy.
Instead, he comes back with samples of prescription medicine.
Norris’ devout trick-or-treating is one of the numerous ways the retired pharmacist has led the pharmacy of Morgan County’s free clinic to success since it opened in April 2004. The Community Free Clinic of Decatur-Morgan County’s pharmacy provides free medication to Morgan County residents without insurance who qualify for treatment at the clinic.
When Norris learned that he will be honored with the John A. Caddell award at the Decatur General Foundation’s Gala XXIII, he was taken aback. The service award is presented to two recipients each year by the hospital board foundation.
“It’s nice to be chosen for something like that but it’s not something you expect,” the Decatur native said. “I had no idea that anything like that would ever happen. I was very pleasantly surprised.”
But friends of Norris say he shouldn’t have been surprised. He was a shoo-in.
Bess Newsom, who followed Norris to the free clinic after working at his retail pharmacy for 40 years, said Norris always puts patients first.
“He really cares for his customers,” she said. “He’d go that extra mile for someone.”
If a drug is not readily in stock for a patient, Norris is always quick to pound the pavement cheerfully and track down the drug from local doctors as quickly as he can, she said.
“Ray loves pharmacy,” Newsom said. “He knows all about it and keeps up with all the newest drugs.”
When Norris retired from retail pharmacy five years ago, he volunteered to lead the pharmacy and donated his pharmacy equipment and furnishings to the clinic’s pharmacy. He also recruited many of his old pharmacy friends to volunteer there.
Since then, he’s volunteered about 20 hours per week filling prescriptions, consulting with patients, filing paperwork, collecting drug samples, coordinating the pharmacy’s volunteer schedule and recruiting technicians and pharmacists to work. Each week, about 30 volunteers are needed to run the pharmacy.
Because of Norris and his licensed staff, the clinic’s pharmacy is licensed by the state just like any other retail pharmacy. Many other free clinics only offer dispensaries, which are not run by a licensed staff.
Norris was also recently honored by the Points of Light Foundation and Volunteer Center National Network in Washington, D.C., for his service to the clinic.
Knowing he is helping people who otherwise may not be able to afford medication is a great way to “give back to the community,” Norris said, choking back tears. Many of the clinic’s patients have chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension that cost hundreds of dollars each month to treat.
“They can go to the ER to see the doctor, but if you can’t get the medicine it doesn’t do a bit of good,” Norris said. “It’s filling a niche for these people that are in a certain category who cannot afford or cannot one way or another get their medications.”
Plus, the free clinic pharmacy is free of the headaches many pharmacies today have to deal with, such as handling complicated insurance policies. Because patients at the free clinic do not have insurance, that problem is eliminated.
“Back in the Dark Ages when I started in the pharmacy, you didn’t have the problems you have now,” Norris said. “I’m away from all of that now, and that makes it easier and so much more satisfying in pharmacy to be able to do it like this.”
Before he retired and began to volunteer at the free clinic, Norris owned and operated Modern Apothecary pharmacy on Somerville Road in Decatur for 37 years.
The Decatur native attended Auburn University — called Alabama Polytechnic Institute at the time — and graduated from the four-year pharmacy program in 1958. He is married to D. Ann Norris and is the father of three children and five grandchildren.
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