Personality: Linwood ‘Shawn’ Nelson

Spotlight on board chairman of Rx Partnership

3/28/2024, 6 p.m.
Linwood “Shawn” Nelson, a product of rural Virginia, was no stranger to poverty while growing up.

Linwood “Shawn” Nelson, a product of rural Virginia, was no stranger to poverty while growing up. As a youth, he witnessed the hardships of his community, where the basics of life—food, clothing, and health care—were heartbreaking. This firsthand experience of hardship, though not immediately apparent to him, would later shape his mission to bring about health care equity.

Mr. Nelson’s family was steeped in the tradition of tobacco farming and both sets of his grandparents tended the crop. However, his mother, driven by a strong desire to break free from this tradition, steered Mr. Nelson toward a different path. She worked in textile mills, and his father, a truck driver, paved the way for his son to become the first in his family to attend college.

He seized this opportunity and graduated from William & Mary with a bachelor’s degree in busines and an MBA.

“My parents decided I’d be the first to go to college,” Mr. Nelson said. “It was never an option not to go to college,”

Thus, it’s no surprise Mr. Nelson is using his experience and education to chip away at the health care inequities he sees in Virginia. He’s working within the health care system to make incremental changes to help those whose health is at risk because they’re either uninsured or underinsured.

Through his work with Rx Partnership, Mr. Nelson is helping the organization increase medication access for the vulnerable in Virginia and strengthen the health safety net.

He wants to ensure that asset-limited, income-constrained employed (ALICE) people have access to the medications they need.

“Many people in Virginia can’t afford the medications they need,” Mr. Nelson explains. “It’s that single mother who works two jobs and barely makes ends meet. If she gets a diabetes diagnosis, she’ll have to choose between feeding and clothing her kids and her medication.”

Raising awareness for Rx Partnership is central to helping the people it serves. Mr. Nelson believes the health care system can work for everyone, and he’s committed to changing it by working within it. Understanding that health equity has a socioeconomic component, he believes everyone deserves not to worry about getting the medications they need.

“I jokingly tell my wife that I’ll either change the system or the system will kill me,” he says.

Meet someone who is focused on health care equity and this week’s Personality, Linwood “Shawn” Nelson:

Volunteer position: Board chairman, Rx Partnership.

Occupation: Vice president-finance and chief financial officer, Lifelong Health at Riverside Health System.

Date and place of birth: May 7 in South Boston.

Where I live now: Willamsburg.

Education: MBA, College of William & Mary.

Family: Wife, Andrea Nelson, children, Grayson Nelson, 18, and Charlotte Nelson, 11.

RxP is: A critical part of the health care safety net that provides affordable brand and generic medications to low-income, uninsured Virginians through its statewide network of partner clinics. The organization exists because no matter what a person’s financial situation is, they shouldn’t have to go without the medications they need!

When and why founded: Founded in 2003, Rx Partnership (RxP) was established to coordinate the donation of bulk brand medications from brand pharmaceutical manufacturers to clinics with licensed pharmacies. The organization started providing medication in 2004 and is celebrating its 20th anniversary with numerous events and special activities throughout 2024.

Free movie screening

2024 is a big year for Rx Partnership as it represents 20 years of increasing medication access for vulnerable Virginians! They have some exciting upcoming events, including one this weekend — a free screening of “The Pact” movie on Saturday, March 30, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Byrd Theatre, 2908 W. Cary St.

The film documents three childhood friends navigating the streets of Newark, N.J., who made a pact to attend medical school. Now doctors, all three maintain connections to their community — the documentary tells this story of courage, tenacity, faith and the power of big dreams.

Founders: RxP was founded by a dedicated group of individuals who worked closely with health care foundations, clinics and hospitals. They knew there “had to be a better way” of getting free medication for low-income, uninsured patients in need. At the time (and even today) many individual patient assistance programs from pharmaceutical companies required lengthy applications for each medication and could take many weeks to arrive. Rx Partnership’s founders created a new, innovative model that was low-cost, efficient and effective in providing medications simply and reliably.

Location: While RxP is headquartered in Richmond, its operations span the entire state of Virginia. To accomplish this, RxP works through a network of 30 clinic partners, with and without pharmacies, across 86 Virginia localities, to supply brand and generic medications to low-income, uninsured Virginians.

How RxP works in a nutshell: RxP secures both donated medications and leverages purchasing power to buy critically needed medications for clinic partners across the state. These programs are designed to ensure vulnerable Virginians have access to the medications they need to manage their chronic conditions, continue working and live healthy and productive lives.

How I initially got involved with RxP: Several years ago, a former boss was rotating off the board and reached out to me to ask if I would be interested in replacing her on the board. After researching the organization, learning about the mission, and seeing what all RxP had accomplished, it was a no-brainer for me.

When elected board president: 2023.

No. 1 goal and strategy as board chairman: RxP has served the uninsured for 20 years, and I am working to help expand that mission both geographically to portions of the state that we do not serve and socioeconomically to the underinsured as well.

Biggest challenge: Our biggest challenge is the reduction in free medications that the big pharmaceutical companies are willing to distribute. A growing number of medications we distribute are now generics, which we have to pay for, due to patents ending and an overall reduction in the number of drugs pharmaceutical companies are willing to distribute free of charge.

No. 1 joy I have witnessed through working with RxP: Watching the team come together to resolve very complex issues, very quickly in order to make sure patients have the medications they need. The best example involves our team developing and implementing mail order pharmacy in a matter of days instead of months at the beginning of the pandemic.

This ensured that even though our patients may not be able to make it to the clinics to receive their medications, they still had them in hand when they needed them.

The three words that best describe me: Honest, perseverant, dedicated.

Best late-night snack: Pizza.

My music playlist: My first cassette I ever owned was Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and I would say my playlist begins there also. From there, it is quite varied and includes hard rock, country, classic rock, hip hop, and lots of blues. My latest addition to my playlist is Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, he is amazing!

I love to: Hike, backpack, camp and travel in general.

A quote that inspires me: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.”

The best thing my parents ever taught me: My mother constantly reminded me growing up that there was no one in the world that was better than me and I was not better than anyone else in the world, so never be intimidated by anyone and always treat others as equals.

The person who influenced me the most: My father was always steadfast, in control of his emotions, and extremely thoughtful. I strive to live up to the example he set but have a bit of my mother’s temper.

Book that influenced me the most: “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” by John C. Maxwell

Next goal: RxP is wrapping up the development of our next three-year Strategic Plan. Our next goal will be implementation!