Lisa Nelson: Championing Access to Affordable Healthcare

Blonde woman in yellow sweater smiles at the camera for a professional headshot.Growing up in Hoquiam, Lisa Nelson witnessed firsthand the struggles of her parents to navigate a healthcare system that seemed designed against them. Her mother’s battle with health issues, exacerbated by the lack of affordable care options, left an indelible mark on Lisa’s life.

“I saw my mom suffer unnecessarily because of lack of health care and how that impacted her. She didn’t have an option, she had to work no matter how sick she was,” Lisa recalls.

Driven by this experience, Lisa pursued a career in pharmacy, earning her Doctor of Pharmacy from Washington State University. However, it was her transition into community health that ignited her passion for advocacy and brought her closer to effecting real change in the lives of underserved communities.

“Working in Community Health Centers, we can solve these problems, so people have access regardless of their ability to pay,” Lisa affirms.

As Chief Pharmacy Officer at Unity Care NW, Lisa recognizes the pivotal role that affordable medication plays in ensuring comprehensive healthcare. She became deeply involved in initiatives like the 340B program, which helps low-income and other vulnerable patients access more affordable medicines, leveraging it to bridge the gap between medical care and financial constraints.

“Specifically with the pharmacy and 340B, it’s a mechanism that we at the Community Health Center can utilize to make an impact on affordable medications. Because for many people, maybe they can afford to go to the doctor, but they can’t afford their prescriptions,” Lisa explains.

“With community health centers we can have a pharmacy that, instead of saying no to these patients, can say yes so at the end of the day you walk away with your medication, and you get the health outcomes you deserve,” Lisa says.

Driven by her belief in equity and fairness, Lisa is committed to streamlining processes to ensure that everyone receives the care they need without bureaucratic hurdles.

“I’m such an advocate for treating everyone the same. I want to make a system where everyone can get everything they need and if cost is an issue, we’ll figure that out without you having to fill out 14 pages of forms,” Lisa asserts.

This advocacy extends beyond the walls of Unity Care NW. As a nationally recognized expert on 340B, Lisa works with colleagues and law makers across the country to fight for fair drug pricing. She remains actively involved in various organizations, serving in leadership roles on committees and councils, engaging law makers, strategizing with other community health centers, and drafting model legislation aimed at advancing pharmacy practices and healthcare policies.

Lisa’s tireless efforts and dedication have not gone unnoticed. The National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) recently honored her with the Elizabeth K. Cooke Advocacy MVP Award during their 2024 Policy and Issues Forum in Washington, D.C. This prestigious award recognizes Lisa’s exceptional advocacy work and her unwavering commitment to expanding access to affordable healthcare.

Lisa Nelson’s journey from witnessing her mother’s struggles to becoming a stalwart advocate for healthcare equity exemplifies the transformative power of personal experience and unwavering dedication. Her story is echoed across the experiences of many health care advocates in the community health center movement across America. As she continues to champion accessible healthcare, her impact reverberates far beyond the confines of Washington State, resonating with communities across the nation in their pursuit of health and well-being for all.