Officially our nation’s first hospital, Pennsylvania Hospital has been a stalwart pillar of its surrounding Philadelphia community since its founding in 1751. No wonder than, with over two and a half centuries of history and continuous service behind it, the hospital inspires its employees to “give back” to the community.
“When I was still in school I was very involved in community outreach,” said Alyssa Vaysman, PharmD, Outpatient Pharmacy supervisor at Pennsylvania Hospital. “It’s something that I’ve really been missing. At the end of the day, I got into health care to help people and I got into community and outpatient pharmacy because I love interacting with patients.”
Shown above are Alyssa Vaysman, PharmD, Outpatient Pharmacy supervisor and Carmela Bynum, Pharmacy technician at Pennsylvania Hospital.
It was through her interacting with patients that Alyssa recognized a very real, very specific need in the older adult population. “Prior to working at Pennsylvania Hospital I worked for CVS, participating in annual flu shot clinics at various assisted living facilities and nursing homes. We were there to talk with residents about the importance of getting a flu vaccine but they always had other questions about their medications – how to take them, side effects, etc.,” said Alyssa. “But we were so busy giving out flu shots that we weren’t able to answer all of their questions.” With her current position at the Hospital, Alyssa realized she now has the opportunity to work with the community as she’s always wanted. “This gave me the idea to contact a local facility and set up a venue to address the needs of our older adult community and apply for grant funding.”
Older adults face many challenges in terms of their medications – challenges that can have critical effects upon their health and safety. They may have disease related issues such as memory, hearing and/or vision impairment, or loss of feeling in the hands and fingers, limiting their dexterity. Others may have low health care literacy or language barriers which can severely limit their access to or ability to navigate through the health care system. Additionally, many neurological or psychological issues often go undiagnosed in older patients who may also believe in superstitions or myths about health care such as “the flu shot gave me the flu,” or that depression is not a disease.
Complicating things further, many older adults take multiple medications and see several doctors – all of whom may or may not communicate properly with each other. The final ingredient in what has the potential to be a toxic brew of socio-economic factors – drug costs. “Due to fixed incomes, some elderly use multiple pharmacies to fill their prescriptions, all in an effort to find the lowest price,” said Alyssa. “On the topic of price, Medicare Part D is extremely confusing and changes every year. If we can proactively advise our older adults, we may be able to spare them potential health dangers and other problems down the line.”
Eager to take action, Alyssa applied for a CAREs grant to help fund and launch her community outreach initiative. Offered by Penn Medicine, the CAREs Foundation Grant Program was established in January 2012, in an effort to continue its commitment to underserved communities and to support and recognize faculty, student, and/or staff efforts to improve the health of the community and increase volunteerism in community-based programs.
Thanks to the aid of a Penn CAREs Grant, Alyssa and her Pharmacy colleagues are now able to present healthy living educational sessions at St. George’s Senior Housing, on 850 Locust Streets – just one block from the Hospital. The grant funding will help the Pharmacy team compile and create educational materials and offer seniors products to help them better manage their personal health care such as pill organizers and vaccine record cards. The presentations – a team effort to be given by both Inpatient and Outpatient Hospital Pharmacy staff – will include such timely topics as medication adherence, therapeutic lifestyle modifications, and vaccines.
“When I started the process of applying for this grant, I sent an email to the Pharmacy department and I got so much feedback from our team. I could not believe how many people wanted to be involved. I was thinking of doing two talks, one on vaccines and one on medication adherence, but now that we have so many team members we will definitely do more.” And while some are fond of the expression “less is more,” this is one time where more is more, and a good thing. “The most important topic we need to address with this population in my opinion is prevention,” said Alyssa. “Through our work we want to prevent infections, falls, worsening of conditions and drug misuse. We can make a big impact by discussing vaccines and medication adherence and the proper use of medication with our older neighbors and hopefully change any misconceptions they may have. It’s been brought to my attention that some of the St. George residents have lost faith in medicine. These are the people we want to reach! We want to give them some attention and show that we care.”
Alyssa and the rest of the Pharmacy team plan on beginning their educational sessions at St George’s this spring. It is a true team effort. Any Pharmacy members who are not able to go onsite due to scheduling issues are helping other team members create their presentations and materials. Presentations will given by both Inpatient and Outpatient PAH Pharmacy employees including: Annie Le, Pharm, D, Roslyn Betsill, CPhT, Elizabeth Tammaro, PharmD, Kristen Phillips, PharmD, Elizabeth Marino, PharmD, BCPS, Clinical Pharmacy specialist – Antimicrobial Management, Lindsay Varga, PharmD, BCPS, Clinical Pharmacy specialist – Internal Medicine, Poonam Chhunchha, PharmD, PGY1, Pharmacy resident, Tiffany So, PharmD, PGY1, Pharmacy resident, Carolyn Orendorff, PharmD, BCPS, Clinical Pharmacy specialist – Internal Medicine, Renata Kucas, RPh, Hannah Dambek, Pharmacy intern, Sarah Kraus, Pharmacy intern, Tracy Miller, RPh, Miriam Gonsky, PharmD, Mary Howell, CPhT, Carmela Bynum, CPhT, Pharmacy technician and Suzanne Brown, MD, Rph, director, PAH Pharmacy. “I hope to find more sites for us to visit in the near future so that we can reach a wider audience,” said Alyssa.
More about the CAREs Grants
The CAREs Foundation Grand Program has funded programs that have addressed health disparities, provided care to seniors, administered free medical care to homeless in Philadelphia, helped fund medical care for uninsured and underinsured, and more.
Each quarter, the Foundation awards grants of up to $5,000 per project to community and hospital-based programs on behalf of the employee(s) or Perelman School of Medicine student(s) who volunteer their time to support the program. The funding is eligible for expenses related to initiatives in community health improvement services, health professions education, subsidized health services, cash and in-kind contributions, or community building activities.