American Pharmacists Month: 4 Pharmacists Helping Their Communities

Drug Topics Journal, Drug Topics October 2021, Volume 165, Issue 10

In honor of American Pharmacists Month, here are 4 pharmacists making a significant difference in the communities they serve.

Greg Clyde, PharmD, opened Clyde Pharmacy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in March 2019. “When we opened, one of the core values of my desire to open a store was to be more active in the community,” he says. Clyde is involved in numerous projects to help his community.

Pre–COVID-19, in an effort to increase immunization against influenza, Clyde partnered with Putnam City North High School’s band in a fundraiser to give back $5 for each influenza shot. They raised over $5000 in both 2019 and 2020. In August 2021, the pharmacy partnered with the high school and local church in a community service project. They closed the store for 4 hours so the staff could participate in various service activities such as cooking meals for church members and helping the school prepare for fall.

Clyde recently sponsored an ID tag program at the elementary school in which ID tags match up parents’ cars with children’s backpacks for safety. He also sponsors various events at the Healthy Living Wellness Center and talks to members at the health fair.

During COVID-19, Clyde noticed that there was an abundance of misinformation. He took the opportunity to step up as a reliable source of information, writing weekly updates on the pharmacy’s Facebook page. As a result, the page almost quadrupled in followers, going from 400 to 1400. Clyde worked closely with the Department of Health to secure COVID-19 vaccines, becoming one of the first pharmacies in the state to get vaccines.

Looking forward, Clyde is getting ready to run for the state house. “There is a need for pharmacists to step up in leadership roles. I’m in a good spot to make a difference,” he says. He hopes to continue his work on education advocacy and work on policies related to pharmacy and patient choice, “so patients have a real choice in their pharmacy.”

Mariamawit Desta, PharmD, is the owner and pharmacy manager of Apex Pharmacy in Aurora, Colorado, a suburb of Denver. She opened her pharmacy in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic in November 2020. As a minority health care provider, Desta was alarmed to learn how COVID-19 affected minorities and wanted to serve a diverse community.

Desta started out by focusing on cardiovascular education and awareness. She found that many of her patients did not know what medications they were taking. Desta educated patients on why they were taking the medications and concentrated on adherence and medication therapy management. “We focused on preventive health and eradicating misinformation,” she explains. Soon after, the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine changed everything and the focus shifted to vaccinating the community.

“Vaccines were a great opportunity to get involved with the community,” Desta says. When the pharmacy started offering vaccines, they created an online scheduling tool. Desta soon realized that most of the vaccine appointments were booked by affluent patients outside the area. She realized she needed to target those in the community and promptly met with community leaders. They set up unadvertised walk-in clinics every day from 12 to 4 pm. During these clinics, Desta and her staff helped patients fill out forms and educated patients, providing them with data and facts when they were hesitant about the vaccine.

Soon they were giving up to 200 vaccines per day. As of now they have vaccinated more than 4500 people, “the majority being from the local community,” Desta says, which was her goal. The pharmacy staff continues to give the COVID-19 vaccine, and their patients are mostly local community members who feel safe with and trust the pharmacy staff. Word of mouth also is a significant factor. According to Desta, 1 person may come in then bring 2 friends the next day for their vaccines. “This is the kind of relationship that I hope and plan to build here,” Desta says of her successful vaccine program.

When COVID-19 slows down, Desta plans to continue working on preventive health, adding in mental health. “We want to end the stigma,” she says. She plans to collaborate with nonprofit mental health centers, creating a safe space to help patients with adherence and ultimately helping end the stigma.

Arun Tandon, BPharm, has always been involved in the community, taking every opportunity to go out and educate citizens about various health topics. However, with the arrival of COVID-19, he brought community involvement to the highest level. “When COVID-19 started, we knew we could help the community, even though many others were scared,” he says.

Tandon increased delivery capacity to meet demand and gave hazard pay to all staff members. Still, he wanted to help the community even more. At the time, the only available testing was at the hospital, which took over a week for results. Tandon partnered with a local lab, becoming the first pharmacy to offer polymerase chain reaction testing. Because the pharmacy was not large enough to accommodate the number of people who required testing, the staff began to provide drive-through testing in the parking lot. Soon they were carrying out 300 tests daily. When the weather became too cold to work outside, Tandon opened up another storefront in the same strip mall as his pharmacy.

At this point, Tandon tripled his staff to take care of patients. “It was very exhilarating,” he recalls, explaining how he started his workday at 7 am. In addition to offering testing at the new location, he also went to various small businesses, doctor’s offices, and nursing homes to provide testing. “Not many people raised their hands to help, but we knew infection control and we knew the needs of the community,” he notes. “I don’t think there’s anyone in this town who has not been through our testing center.” Tandon says the pharmacy staff has done over 50,000 tests.

Tandon also became a reliable source for accurate information on COVID-19, talking with newspapers, radio, and TV.

Once the vaccines were available, Tandon was disappointed that independent pharmacies did not receive a supply. Not to be deterred, he applied for a grant from the state of Michigan for 5000 vaccines (to be used as 2500 first doses and 2500 second doses). He had to commit to giving out the 2500 first doses in 2 weeks. Tandon was approved for the grant. “In 6 days, we did 2700 vaccines. We got extra doses out of each vial and did not waste a single vaccine,” he says. “It is so humbling to see small pharmacies do so much to prevent illness and death. It was such a feeling of doing something worthwhile.”

Since graduating from pharmacy school more than 10 years ago, Kristen M. Clancy, PharmD, MHA, has striven to volunteer and work for nonprofits in multiple settings including hospitals, clinics, and community health. Her passion for service has enabled her to pursue organizations that provide free medical treatment to patients. “Texas is a Medicaid nonexpansion state, so there is a large population of patients who make too much money for Medicaid but don’t make enough money for Obamacare. Being able to provide care for those patients has always been my goal. Every patient should have access to competent, compassionate health care regardless of their income,” she says.

Hurricane Harvey drastically changed Clancy’s career trajectory while she was working as a pharmacist in Houston at a charity clinic in 2017. “My clinic was located on the northwest side and the building was spared from the damage that other charity clinics in the area sustained. Multiple humanitarian relief organizations used our facilities as a hub, to coordinate service to other facilities and store medical supplies for other clinics. It really opened my eyes to the possibilities available for charity clinics,” she recalls. With the help of an amazing pharmacy staff and multiple volunteers, Clancy helped distribute prescription medications totalling nearly $2 million, medical supplies, and equipment to her patients and the teams participating in cleanup and recovery efforts in the area.

As Clancy connected with other charity clinics and nonprofit pharmacists, she learned that many were unaware of the domestic humanitarian relief organizations such as Americares, Direct Relief, Dispensary of Hope, and others. In 2018, she started her own company––Texas Recovery Network Solutions––with the goal of providing information about these resources to other charity clinics and humanitarian relief organizations. “I actually provide all the information about these opportunities for free on my website. I want the information out there and easy to access for the charities that need it,” Clancy says.

The name – Texas Recovery Network Solutions – has a dual meaning. Although the organization was founded to address the post-Harvey recovery efforts, Clancy had other long-term goals. “I had always envisioned using these resources to help organizations that provide treatment for substance use disorders. For patients that are seeking treatment or are new in recovery, the ability to maintain their physical health at the same time as their recovery is equally important,” she explains. 

With this goal in mind, Clancy was able to pivot her organization and her time to assist recovery organizations. She was asked to lead the Behavioral Health Integration workgroup for the Houston Recovery Initiative, a coalition that provides resources for recovery groups and facilities in the Houston area. Clancy also founded a nonprofit, RxRecovery, with the mission of reducing opioid overdose rates.

“The state of Texas ranks fifth in the United States in regard to overdoses, yet less than half of Texas community pharmacies are willing to dispense buprenorphine products. As pharmacists, we really need to get involved in fighting the other epidemic that exploded while we were busy fighting COVID-19,” Clancy says.

RxRecovery aims to educate health care professionals, reduce stigma, increase patient access to buprenorphine, and reduce the overdose rates plaguing Texas and beyond. As part of her role, Clancy attends Project ECHO programs focused on substance use disorder in states across the country. She hopes to find solutions for Texas and also provide a pharmacist’s input on tough cases. “Sometimes there will be a Zoom meeting with 20 people but I’m the only pharmacist. I hope by participating I can encourage other pharmacists to participate and be a part of the solution.”

In addition to these roles, Clancy also volunteers for the American Red Cross and has previously held multiple administrative roles including onboarding, training, and credential verification of volunteers in Disaster Health Services and Disaster Mental Health. In 2020, she deployed multiple times for flooding and after Winter Storm Uri. Volunteering for the American Red Cross during a pandemic and the most active hurricane season in recorded history was one of the most challenging yet rewarding opportunities of her career. “This past year, I won a service award from the Red Cross, and I was nominated for the Distinguished Alumni Award from Texas A&M [Irma Lerma] Rangel College of Pharmacy for my efforts in the recovery community. I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined my life as a pharmacist would look like this, but I’m so grateful for how it has all come together.”