New York City Medical Reserve Corps Begins Pharmacy Outreach

Submitted By

Norberto Alberto, RPhI, MS, HScD
New York City Medical Reserve Corps, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygeine, New York
June 30, 2015

Dr. Norberto Alberto has been a pharmacist for 24 years and a Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) volunteer for ten years. The MRC is a national network of local volunteers dedicating to improving health, safety, and preparedness in their communities. The MRC network is comprised of almost 1,000 units and more than 200,000 volunteers.

Dr. Alberto has served as the pharmacy representative on the MRC’s advisory board for the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene since 2005. The advisory board suggests activities and programs based on the Department’s health priorities. In 2015, the New York City (NYC) MRC unit decided to launch several public health initiatives. They identified the need for outreach to non-English speaking populations. The unit recognized that one way to reduce disease progression and cost of care was to teach patients, many of whom are immigrants, living in poverty, or elderly, to properly use their medications.

The NYC MRC partnered with Coalicion Mexicana, an organization that focuses on Latino outreach in the Bronx borough of the city, to host a pharmacy brown bag in the community. The MRC volunteers knew they had to reach their target population where they live, so they held an event at a neighborhood church on the weekend, when many people would already be there. Several other organizations participated in the event, offering blood pressure and diabetes screenings among other things.

Three bilingual pharmacy volunteers set up a table in the church auditorium to explain the purpose and correct dosage of visitors’ medicine. Many of the table’s visitors were unaware how to manage their chronic conditions or when and how frequently they should take their medicine. All instructions were completed in Spanish. Some of the adults who visited their booth were illiterate and the volunteers had to come up with creative ways for them to recognize their medications. The first event was a huge success for the pharmacy volunteers of the NYC MRC.

The MRC volunteers quickly saw the huge need for medication clarification in the community and planned their second event. Dr. Alberto acknowledged that funding would have a huge impact on the outreach. While the pharmacists volunteer their time, the group needs supplies like medication identification cards, laptops to provide drug information to patients, and shirts or signs that identify pharmacy volunteers. Security or police must also be present at the events because some patients may be prescribed narcotics. The unit will continue to hold these volunteer events, which could turn into a fully functional program with funding.

Dr. Alberto noted that these pharmacy brown bags might be a pilot event for the MRC network. The NYC MRC hopes to inspire other units to work with pharmacies to reach out to underserved populations. The NYC MRC thinks a network of pharmacist volunteers would be a huge asset to the communities the MRC serves and plans to continue working with organizations in New York City to hold pharmacy brown bags.

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