Phil Redmond remembers waking up gasping for breath when he was 8 years old, but it wasn’t until he was in his 30s that he was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea.
Severe as in a study showed he’d awaken some 144 times a night. As in it caused his brain to swell, which led to a pituitary condition. Redmond knew he was in bad shape. Redmond — a musician and the son of Austin blues man Roy Redmond, who sang with James Brown and Ray Charles — used to play keyboards standing up. Then he had to sit down. Then he’d nod off in the middle of a gig.
“I’d go to the gig in my car and leave in an ambulance,” said Redmond, now 48.
Like many musicians, Redmond didn’t have health insurance and didn’t qualify for Social Security or Medicaid. He eventually connected with the Seton Healthcare Family’s Patient Prescription Assistance Program to get needy members of the community their medications at no or low cost. The program also helps with paperwork such as verifying income limits to establish eligibility.
The program, 15 years old or more, is run out of three Seton facilities in North, South and East Austin. At any given time, roughly a couple of thousand patients are served via the three clinics, according to program specialist Minnie Hernandez. And through partnering with H-E-B pharmacies, the program has saved Seton millions of dollars, not to mention helping stabilize and improve the health of thousands of patients.
“A lot of these medications are maintenance medications, something they need on a regular basis to function,” Hernandez said. “It’s heartwarming to hear them say, ‘Thank you.’ Otherwise, they would go without.”
At least one other medical provider in Central Texas, St. David’s HealthCare, also works with local pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies to help low-income patients get medications at a lower cost, said Dr. Thomas Knight, chief medical officer at St. David’s. “Hospital staff members work with representatives of local community clinics, as well as patients, to help them qualify for such programs and to make sure they receive ongoing health care services,” he said.
Redmond, who also has an enlarged heart, diabetes and high blood pressure, is on some 11 medications that would cost him hundreds of dollars a month had he not connected with the prescription program. Now, he says, it costs him no more than $125 a month. Some of his prescriptions are $5.
His diabetes is under control; a trachea tube helps him breathe at night, and he’s still able to work. (He cut his teeth on the resort circuit with Toby “My Angel Baby” Beau and has worked with MC Overlord and Malford Milligan, among many.) He’s also recently married his junior high school sweetheart, who’s an executive assistant at an investment bank in Houston.
“I graduated and hit the road,” he said. “We’d planned to keep in touch. I didn’t know when I took my first gig I’d be out eight years.”
In the fall, he expects to be able to get on his wife’s insurance. Until then, Seton has agreed to continue to serve him.
“They basically keep me alive and able to afford the medication I so desperately need,” Redmond said. “The care I received I feel everyone deserves.”
For more information about the Patient Prescription Assistance Program, contact any of these Seton community health centers:
• McCarthy, 2811 E. Second St. in East Austin, 512-324-4930
• Kozmetsky, 3706 S. First St. in South Austin, 512-324-4940
•Topfer, 8913 Collinfield Drive in North Austin, 512-324-6850