Serving the Underserved Through Leadership

Published on 21 April 2021

Ensuring underserved communities receive the health care and support they need has long been a passion for Kendra Holmes, B.S. '99, Pharm.D. '00, CHCEM, senior vice president and chief operating officer (COO) at Affinia Healthcare and secretary of the University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy in St. Louis Board of Trustees.

When the COVID-19 pandemic swept the nation in early March 2020, Holmes immediately recognized a need to provide residents of North St. Louis City with access to COVID-19 testing. Her swift response and leadership in the effort did not go unnoticed.

In December 2020, Holmes was recognized as a Leader of Distinction by YWCA Metro St. Louis, an honor that recognizes outstanding women from across the St. Louis area for their commitment to serving the community, eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.

"It’s a very distinct recognition that not everyone has," Holmes said. "To be included with the women who were recognized in the same year as me and the past honorees is a huge honor."

In addition to her community work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and her role on the University's Board of Trustees, Holmes' serves on several boards, including the Missouri Primary Care Association Integrated Health Network Board of Directors, the Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College Board of Trustees, and as chair of the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell's Diversion Advisory Committee.

From her efforts to decrease the jail population through diverting those who have mental health or substance abuse issues to the correct resources to workforce development efforts to grow the pipeline of minority nurses and pharmacists, Holmes credits her pharmacy education as the catalyst that allows her to be an effective leader in her profession and in her community.

"Before I identify as a senior vice president or a chief operating officer, I always identify as a pharmacist first," Holmes said. "Being so visible and constantly letting people know I am a pharmacist is a way for me to showcase how well-suited pharmacists are for a variety of different opportunities. We have clinical knowledge, business knowledge, customer service experience and are patient-focused. During my time as a student at UHSP, we looked at barriers for the patient to be successful with their medication, and that prepared me to think about the impact of social determinants of health."

The impacts of social determinants of health is one of the main drivers of Holmes' work, and was a key consideration in outreach to underserved populations amid the pandemic. Often, even when those from underserved communities receive the proper care, there is a lack of trust in the provider to provide that care.

"At the beginning of the pandemic, there was not a lot of COVID-19 testing happening in underserved communities, so I knew we had to be on the forefront of providing access to testing to build that trust for when the vaccine became available," Holmes said. "Now, with vaccine distribution underway, we are focused on educating underserved communities on the importance of getting vaccinated to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and address concerns around vaccine hesitancy."

Holmes' forethought and outcomes-based approach to leadership has been essential to her success as a leader, but she attributes much of that success to the team who supports her.

"Without the nurses, pharmacists and lab staff, our efforts in this pandemic would not have been possible," Holmes shared. "Being a true leader is being our there in the trenches and motivating them with what our outcomes are and how we are going to improve the lives of these populations."

Even amid the pandemic and her leadership responsibilities in community organizations, Holmes finds time to provide mentorship to students in the Normandy School District, North County St. Louis School District and at the University.

"From middle school to high school to college, I've always had mentors, including Art Perry [B.S. '72] who was my mentor while I was a student at the University," Holmes said. "Alan Freeman, [CEO of Affinia Healthcare], has been a tremendous advocate throughout my career, and it just makes sense to give back what I was blessed to receive. What I like to tell my pharmacy mentees is to pursue any type of leadership opportunities and interests you may have. There is so much more that your education will allow you to do. The sky is the limit for pharmacists."

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