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Partnership helps Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center
archived from: 2010-07-19
by: John Franko

Mylan School of Pharmacy aids clinic expansion

A partnership with the Mylan School of Pharmacy at Duquesne University is among the initiatives that is helping the Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center in Downtown Pittsburgh expand faster than organizers ever expected.

The collaboration is part of the doctor of pharmacy students’ clinical rotation. Physicians or nurse practitioners initially see patients and refer them to the “pharmacy team.”

“One of the greatest gifts they bring is their knowledge of pharmaceuticals,” said Sister of Charity Carole Blazina, clinical director and interim administrator of the clinic. “They complement the full team.”

Many of the patients are found to be diabetic or hypertensive. The students are able to counsel the patients on medication. They can also offer dietary advice.

Student Kristina Onori said that it is somewhat unusual to see doctors and pharmacists working so closely together, adding, “It’s a very cooperative arrangement that they have here.”

Onori enjoys the opportunity to interact with the patients.

“It’s nice to know that we can follow their progress and know that we are making a difference in their life,” she said.

Dr. Edward Kelly, volunteer medical director of the clinic, came up with the idea for the collaboration after attending a Volunteers in Medicine meeting while the clinic was still in formation.

While there, he discovered that similar centers relied on “in-kind” services within the community. When he returned, he contacted Dr. Thomas Mattei, associate dean at the Mylan School of Pharmacy.

Autumn Runyon, assistant professor of pharmacy practice, was ultimately chosen to use the health care center as her clinical site. She supervises and mentors students, residents and fellows from the school.

Dr. Douglas Bricker, dean of the Mylan School of Pharmacy, serves on the board of the health care center.

In addition to its affiliation with the Mylan School of Pharmacy, the health care clinic also maintains an affiliation with the Duquesne School of Nursing and the School of Nursing at the University of Pittsburgh.

When the health care clinic opened its doors in November 2007, it offered only primary and dental care and was open only three half days a week.

It is now open five days a week and two evenings a month, and offers services in 11 specialties such as optometry, psychiatry, endocrinology, gynecology, podiatry and dermatology.

More than 7,000 patients have received treatment at the center. They come from all of the six surrounding counties, but most come from Allegheny County.

One of the common misconceptions, Sister Carole said, is that most of the patients are homeless. In reality, most are working, are disabled or they are unemployed.

“We capture those people who are between the cracks,” she said.

Potential patients must first be screened by a volunteer eligibility specialist. They must present a letter of denial from the state Department of Public Welfare, be uninsured and have an annual income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

Patients requiring imaging or specialty care the health care clinic cannot provide are given information for enrollment in free care programs provided by hospital systems.

Kelly described it as a “fairly seamless” process.

Sister Carole pointed to the patient “no show” rate of 7-10 percent, and she said that the figure was low because the people know that they will receive quality care and will be cared for. They are appreciative of the care, she noted, because they look at it as a way of helping them get back on their feet.

“One of the happiest times for us is when people call and say that they are employed and have health insurance, and they want to have their records transferred,” she said.

Both Kelly and Sister Carole said that none of the care would be possible without the dedicated efforts of its volunteers.

The volunteer staff includes 31 physicians, 26 nurses, one certified registered nurse practitioner, 20 dentists, three oral surgeons, six dental hygienists, one physical therapist, two dental assistants and almost three dozen administration and clinical personnel.

About two-thirds of them are still in active practice. They must submit credentials as if applying to a hospital, have a license and proof of continuing medical credits.

They also undergo a “fairly rigorous” six-week screening process.

Kelly noted that of those accepted, less than 10 have decided not to come back after their initial experience at the clinic. Most were do to geographical or travel difficulties.

“People like working in this atmosphere,” he said. “You don’t see any glum faces.”

Kelly said that they appreciate the opportunity to work in an atmosphere without billing responsibilities and other restrictive regulations.

The administration is cognizant of the fact that people are volunteering their time, Sister Carole noted, and is as accommodating as possible with the volunteers.

“It’s not something to be taken for granted,” she said of their service.

Among the volunteers is Dr. Carmine Mastandrea, who had a dental practice for more than 40 years.

“It’s been a great experience for me,” he said shortly after finishing with a patient. “I spend as much time as I can down here. People always have a smile. We probably get more out of this than our patients do.”

Continuing education will be offered to volunteers through a monthly lunch and learn speaker series. Attendees may receive CME credit. A volunteer reception will be held Nov. 4 at Duquesne’s Power Center.

There are only six salaried positions at the health care clinic, which operates on income through foundation contributions, grants and donations. A finance committee closely monitors its budget.

“Obviously, we would not be able to function without the cadre of volunteers who have helped us accomplish our mission thus far,” Kelly said. He noted that in-kind service from volunteers equates to an average of $1.2 million annually.

Kelly also said that materials and support provided by sources such as the Mylan School of Pharmacy are crucial in sustaining the mission of the clinic.

The donated equipment at the center includes dental chairs and ophthalmology equipment such as a $40,000 slint lamp.

The Free Health Care Center operates as an independent 501 (c) (3) under Catholic Charities. It pays rent to Catholic Charities for the two-and-a half floors it now occupies at Catholic Charities’ headquarters at Ninth Street and Liberty Avenue.

The center is not a walk-in clinic. An appointment must be scheduled to receive services.

For general inquiries, eligibility requirements and appointments, call 412-456-6911. Volunteer information is available by calling 412-261-9151.

Information is also available at: info.freecarepgh@ccpgh.org.




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