Five years ago, James Thompson was a hard-working, independent man who made a living as a forklift operator pushing pallets of crushed cardboard, aluminum cans and other recyclables around a cavernous waste management warehouse in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

That was before a series of health problems swamped his life. His family said he had struggled with cluster headaches, and other issues during his 17 years on the job but still managed to carry on. Then the headaches got to be too much, he started having debilitating seizures and his situation spiraled downward.

Today, he’s living with his retired mother as they wait for his application for disability to be approved and wondering what will happen next.

Despite the uncertainty that hovers over much of his life, there is one pillar of stability that makes things easier: His 10 different prescriptions are covered by Crisis Control Ministry in Winston-Salem.

Their licensed pharmacy, which receives financial support from Novant Health social responsibility, offers free prescriptions to low-income people, many of them working, and others who don’t have health insurance. Many clients could never cover the cost of the medications, which can easily run into hundreds of dollars a month.

In 2017, the pharmacy filled more than 28,000 prescriptions valued at $1.8 million. In addition, Crisis Control helps the needy with food assistance, rent and utility payments.

The critical work carried out at the Crisis Control Ministry aligns perfectly with our mission to support key health, environmental and educational initiatives through strategic partnerships in our community,” said Laura Holby, manager of social responsibility at Novant Health. “They are a fantastic partner.”

The Social Responsibility department works to support the overall Novant Health mission by investing in communities where patients and team members live and work through charitable contributions, nonprofit partnerships, volunteerism and in-kind donations. Holby said. Novant Health supports the Crisis Control pharmacy and provides similar help elsewhere in its communities because that work dovetails with the organization’s mission to help people lead healthier lives.

‘What would happen?’

Financial support to Crisis Control Ministry can make a world of difference in the lives of everyday families, said Margaret Elliott, executive director of CCM.

Without that help, so many would be in deep need. “What would happen to some of these people? They probably wouldn’t be able to afford the medication, or would have to give up food, utility payments or move in with somebody else,” she said.

Some clients lose their job after they become sick and can’t work, Elliott said. And when they lose their job, they lose their health insurance. As the crises mount, their lives can totally unravel.

One client, she noted, lead a comfortable life making $45,000 a year until struggles with bipolar disorder became overwhelming and cost her everything.

“We’ve had people tell us that if it weren’t for the Crisis Control pharmacy,” Elliott said, “that they wouldn’t be alive.”

As part of its mission, CCM staffers team up with Novant Health and others to offer an intense poverty simulation experience to help team members comprehend the real life challenges patients face in taking care of their own health when they don’t make enough money to cover bills that never seem to go away.

‘This is such a blessing’

Annette Joyner, James Thompson’s mother, is a retired housekeeper who worked at the North Carolina School of the Arts. Financially supporting her son at midlife was never part of the plan. While life hasn’t been easy for the family, she said the pharmacy’s support has made things better. She also said the medication covered by CCM has led to improvements in her son’s condition.

“Lord have mercy, this is such a blessing — having somewhere to come when you need help” said Joyner. Tears welled in her eyes. “If they would not have helped him, he would not be as far as he is now.” One prescription alone costs $300 a month, she said, far beyond their means on her retirement income.

“I’d like to say to all the people, here, thank you from the bottom of my heart.”