UB Pharmacy Interns 'Invaluable' at Community Health Center of Buffalo

By Mary Cochrane

Release Date: May 6, 2005 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Just a mile from the University at Buffalo South (Main Street) Campus is one of three community health centers where students from the UB School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences are making a difference for Western New York residents.

The students train at the Community Health Center of Buffalo (CHCB), the Oak Orchard Community Health Center sites in Brockport and Albion, and the Woodward Healthcare Center in Rochester. All are federally qualified health-care centers funded through grants from the federal government.

As an urban health care-center attached to the Erie County Medical Center on Grider Street in Buffalo, the CHCB serves a neighborhood of high unemployment, single-parent homes and daily decisions over precious few resources.

"The typical patient from this area is a woman in her 40s with three chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension and asthma. One mother and her child, who both have asthma, can only afford one $35 inhaler. The mother tells me that she is the one who has to use it because she has to go to work the next day," according to Karl D. Fiebelkorn, the school's assistant dean for student affairs and professional relations.

Fiebelkorn, who helped design the CHCB's pharmacy, said it was added as a convenience for residents who rely on the CHCB as their primary heath-care provider. Pharmacy interns at the CHCB work with doctors to arrange for delivery of free samples of inhalers and other medications for the patients, as well as educating them on their proper use.

The center has a 40 percent "no-show" rate among its patients because of irregular job schedules and a lack of medical insurance, Fiebelkorn said.

"Many patients here, I would say, are the hard-working poor," he said. "They are people on Medicaid who work full-time in places that give them a job, but can't afford to give them medical insurance."

The center addresses these problems by keeping its fees as low as possible and its sample supply generous.

"Even people with co-pay cards, they can't afford a lot on their cards. So we have a very large sample room here and we do lots of generic prescribing," Fiebelkorn said.

The center also provides daily opportunities for the pharmacy students to work with patients to educate them on their treatments. Students present information and provide counseling to patients through programs they have designed on various conditions, including hypertension, asthma and diabetes.

UB pharmacy student Heather M. Spanbauer, who has spent the past year as a resident at the CHCB, plans to keep in touch with one of her patients after she graduates this month.

The elderly man, hospitalized last year for congestive heart failure, also is being treated for hypertension, hypothyroidism, atrial fibrillation and has an artificial heart valve. He has lived alone since his wife died several years ago.

The man didn't know what medications he was on, and was taking them "based on their appearance," rather than on his prescriptions, Spanbauer said. So she organized the pills he needs to take each day for him, and has continued to monitor dosages of his medications based on lab tests.

"I know that he is extremely appreciative of the help I have given him, and I feel as though beyond the pharmacy care, I have provided him with someone to talk to every week," Spanbauer said. "It is relationships like this that reaffirm my decision to go into pharmacy in the first place."

The UB students help provide special service that otherwise might not be available in the busy clinical setting, according to Sandra DiPasquale, the CHCB's chief executive officer.

"Right now we could use more students to work one-on-one with providers to obtain medications. This has been very helpful -- it saves the provider time and allows the physicians more time with patients," DiPasquale said. "The students also have been invaluable in assisting us with asthma education for parents of children with the illness."

  The New York state legislature included $27 million in its just-approved budget for 2005 to help relocate the school to the South Campus, a move that geographically will align the discipline alongside the university's schools of medicine and biomedical sciences, dental medicine, nursing and public health and health professions.

Work begins this summer to renovate Acheson Hall on the South Campus, the school's new home, a project not expected to be completed until 2010.

In the meantime, according to Dean Wayne K. Anderson, the school will "continue to engage in innovative interdisciplinary activities with our health-care colleagues on the South Campus, as well as our urban and rural community partners.

"This move will allow the school to maintain and enhance partnerships with community outreach programs such as the Community Health Center of Buffalo, and other federal health centers throughout Western New York," Anderson said. "Our relocation to the South Campus will unify the health professional schools and solidify our relationships with health-care professionals addressing the needs of the underserved."