Pharmacy students help Haven’s homeless

By Rachel Bowes


Headed by Dr. Vanessa Phillips, the fourth-year students of John and Rita Feik School of Pharmacy are doing mission work at the Haven for Hope campus for homeless people.

The haven near downtown San Antonio is a homeless transformation campus. According to its website, it is the largest in the nation.

“Our mission at Haven is to assist the members of Haven for Hope by improving medication reconciliation, adherence and education to prevent or minimize drug-related problems,” said Phillips, 31, an assistant professor of pharmacy practice at the University of the Incarnate Word. She runs the pharmacy school’s Haven for Hope program.

The program fulfills the “ambulatory care” rotation requirement for Feik’s fourth-year students. Every six weeks, three or four students are chosen for the program, where they will spend the next six weeks working one-on-one with members of Haven for Hope under Phillips’ supervision.

“To me, I think these are patients that really need help,” says fourth-year student Tram Ngo.

Phillips’ program works to educate Haven’s clients on the proper use of their medications and why it is important that they follow the directions on them. They also offer pill organizers and lock boxes for use by members so they do not have to worry about forgetting their medications or having them stolen.

“Individuals were abusing and misusing their medications or using drugs to trade for other items,” says Phillips. Some residents did not have access to medications which they had been prescribed.

The program is also able to conduct “free health screenings such as blood pressure, blood glucose, total cholesterol and HgA1c (for diabetics),” Phillips said. This is an important aspect of the program, because many members suffer from high blood pressure and cholesterol as well as diabetes, and few have resources to keep track of their health status.

Phillips recounted one Haven resident who had a “history of stroke. His blood pressure was really high [and] it was only getting higher.” The individual complained he was not feeling well and his condition was only worsening.

Knowing he already was a stroke-risk patient and that high blood pressure puts a person at risk of many complications such as a stroke or heart attack, Phillips called Life Safety, a group on the Haven for Hope campus which evaluates situations and decides if emergency services are needed.

It was decided this individual needed to be sent to a hospital. The following day, Phillips said, she saw the individual on campus and found he had been discharged from the hospital but was not feeling any better. She encouraged him to visit his primary care physician and the individual sought help at a different hospital.

There, he was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism. There was a blood clot in his lung and his medications needed to be adjusted to resolve the problem. Thanks to Phillips and her studentsm this individual was able to seek treatment and have his problem diagnosed before it was too late.

“They’re actually relying on us,” Phillips said. “Seeing them succeed has been very rewarding.”

The students in the program have the opportunity to work directly with patients in both individual appointments and bi-weekly health screenings. Phillips says on health screening days, the students may see anywhere from 30-70 members.

The most challenging part of the program for Ngo is learning how to work comfortably with the members she treats. “How you question them is very important,” she says.

Many of the members suffer from psychiatric health problems and the students are in charge of gathering a full medical background from each patient as well as educating them on their medication needs. As Ngo puts it, the process is “sensitive”.

Once a year, the program holds a health fair at Haven for Hope with help from the Nursing School, and in the future, Phillips plans to invite the other UIW medical schools as well. This is an opportunity for both graduate and undergraduate students in the field of medicine to get involved with the program at Haven for Hope.

“It’s an eye-opening experience,” says Phillips. “Everybody’s the same. Anybody could end up using these services.”



   University of the Incarnate Word students in other disciplines can also be involved at Haven for Hope by making donations or volunteering.

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