The Universal Language of Care

Published on 01 April 2014

A woman walks into the crowded, noisy, well-lit room on the second floor of the University City Public Library in which Health Protection Education Services (HPES) hosts a free monthly health clinic. She has just been laid off, has no health insurance, and suffers from Type 2 diabetes. She is desperate and alone, and needs some way to regulate her diabetes. In steps fifth-year student Brooke Stanton and the College’s Lambda Kappa Sigma (LKS) service and professional fraternity. Stanton reviews the woman’s medication history and tells her that she is eligible for $4 generic prescriptions. The woman gets the cost savings on medications she so desperately needs, but she also gets some reassurance from Stanton. “Just being there to listen to her and being empathetic was a big deal for her,” Stanton, who helps lead LKS’ volunteer efforts at the clinic, says.

The stories of lives saved and health improved are many since LKS began volunteering at HPES’ monthly health clinics last spring. In addition to medication reviews, LKS recently introduced a multilingual pharmacy directory to HPES clients.  

HPES, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, provides free health screening services and health education to the underserved and uninsured in the St. Louis metropolitan area in a nontraditional setting. Screening tests offered include blood glucose checks, blood pressure measurements, cholesterol, EKGs, hearing tests, dermatology exams, height and weight measurements, and vision tests.

A man who had been taking Valium for 17 years told Shin-Yu Lee, assistant professor of pharmacy practice and LKS faculty advisor, he was going to quit taking it cold turkey. STLCOP students were there to intervene and tell the man that quitting a potent medication used to treat anxiety disorder cold turkey could cause fatal seizures. “We were able to educate him and identify a local physician for him to see to help taper off the medication, and also to provide further assessment of his mental health,” she says.

There was another patient that the student pharmacists had been monitoring for some time. He was a regular to the monthly clinics, and every time he came, he got his blood glucose checked. Every visit his blood glucose jumped higher, until one visit when his blood glucose fasting (meaning he hadn’t had anything to eat or drink for at least 12 hours) read 393. “Now a normal person’s fasting level is generally less than 120, so 393’s a big shocker,” Lee says.

At this point, the man was in dire need of medication attention.  So Lee, as well as the student pharmacists, set to counseling the man to determine why his blood glucose was so high.

Lee: Sir, you need to get this checked out immediately. Do you have a primary care physician?

Man: No, I don’t have insurance. I haven’t been to the doctor’s in a while.

Lee: Have you been going to the bathroom a lot more? Are you drinking a lot? Are you eating a lot?

Man: Well I have been peeing and feeling thirsty more. 

Lee: How do you get care?

Man: When it gets really bad I just go to the emergency room.

Lee, as well as the student pharmacists, tried to convince the man to go to a free clinic, but he refused. In the end, he decided to go to Lee’s clinic at SSM St. Mary’s Health Center for insulin and help regulating his diabetes. “We intervened, provided him with continuity of care, and educated him on the right medication that he needed to take,” Lee says.

“It was a great learning opportunity for our students, and they can all attest to that,” she adds.

Each and every STLCOP student volunteering at the January HPES clinic talked about how rewarding it was for them to be able to educate and help real patients. “Before I started volunteering at HPES, it had been so long since I helped someone,” says fifth-year student Taylor Ashton. “This reminds us why I came to STLCOP.”

“Getting a pharmacy education is great, but it doesn’t mean anything if you’re not able to help people and make an impact on their lives,” Stanton adds.

As part of their volunteer work with HPES, LKS student pharmacists have also compiled a multilingual pharmacy directory to give out to health screening patients. The directory includes all of the pharmacies in the St. Louis metropolitan area and indicates those with multilingual pharmacists. It also includes the name of each pharmacy, the pharmacy’s address, normal hours of operation, and phone number.  For each pharmacy, it lists the employees that can speak or understand the language, their position, and shift hours.

According to HPES’ website, participants in the screenings are primarily African-American, Chinese or Korean and 25 percent of HPES clients are non-English speaking or have limited English proficiency. 

The multilingual directory was introduced at the January clinic, and LKS will continually update it and make it available at future clinics. LKS will continue to flesh out the directory. LKS is also hoping to get a grant to give away more pill boxes at the clinic.

Third-year student Shelby Meyers would like to get younger students involved. “I really want to encourage more participation from other students because it’s important that we start learning to take blood pressure and learn to counsel patients,” she says.

“We want to make this a thing for years to come,” Stanton says. “I always love giving back to the community.”

She will continue to volunteer her time at HPES, and look forward to her future as a pharmacy professional. “Volunteering our time to create a multilingual pharmacy directory and talking to patients one-on-one about their medications and the side effects they’re having really puts into perspective what my job is going to be like,” she says. “Coming into STLCOP, I knew that I would be able to help people, but I never imagined anything like this.”

“It’s really great that we can be involved in something that I think is so valuable,” she adds.

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