A Senior Lifeline in Washington Heights-Inwood

Touro College of Pharmacy Students Take a Hands-On Approach to Health and Medication Management with Brown Bag Events

May 18, 2023
TCOP faculty and students counsel seniors at a table about their medications
TCOP faculty and students counsel seniors in Harlem and Washington Heights about their medications

Eugene Lareau likes to drop by his neighborhood Y of Washington Heights-Inwood, where a healthy lunch for seniors is served five days a week. Recently he got more than a meal: he received advice from Touro College of Pharmacy (TCOP) faculty and students about the importance of taking his meds regularly, and a colorful plastic pill box to organize them and make them easier to access.

“This is really important. Now I can do everything the night before and have it all ready—one, two, three—instead of having it in bottles,” he said. “Sometimes you have to push down and turn, and my hands are weak. I have carpal tunnel syndrome. I can’t do anything about it because of my age.”

Lareau is one of over 100 New York City seniors who learned firsthand about their medication regimens and possible side effects from TCOP faculty and student pharmacists.

It was all part of a series of “Brown-Bag” events in Harlem and other medically underserved communities in NYC, to engage the local population and help develop pharmacy students’ skills in providing care.

Meeting Healthcare Needs

“The execution of high-quality community events are a true demonstration of our college’s mission; that is, to develop the next generation of pharmacists vested in promoting wellness, especially among the underserved populations in NYC and beyond,” said Dr. Michael Liu, assistant dean of clinical and professional affairs, who organized and supervised the events.

During April and May, TCOP held the Brown-Bag events at community centers in Upper Manhattan, Harlem and Jackson Heights, Queens, where prescriptions and over-the-counter medications were reviewed along with their proper use and common side effects, and interactions with herbals, vitamins and supplements were checked.

Along with providing education, the Touro team distributed plastic pill organizers and tote bags.

The events were funded by a Civic Engagement Microgrant from the national health research advocacy group Research!America. Sponsors included the New York City Department for the Aging, Union Settlement in East Harlem and Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in Harlem.

Additionally, the Touro teams counseled over 200 seniors at a “Healthy Aging Educational Day” at the Rochdale Village Senior Center in Jamaica, Queens, sponsored by Touro University's Interdisciplinary Institute on Healthy Aging with the support of New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams.

“I had a few questions about taking my vitamins and my cholesterol medication together, to make sure I’m not poisoning myself. I can take everything,” said Evelyn Cruz, who comes to the Y to exercise and have lunch. “I’m fine. Good to go!”

The seniors were counseled on medications for diabetes and hypertension and the importance of adhering to instructions and self-monitoring blood glucose levels and blood pressure at home.

“The event went very well with a great turnout. Touro staff was amazing, and the members felt very comfortable,” said Dee Hernandez, director of the Center for Adults Living Well @ the Y. “The fact that they brought swag was a game-changer.”

"Patient-Centered Care"

Students said the Brown-Bags helped them apply knowledge and skills learned at school to real-world scenarios, and that it was rewarding to help underserved communities and have a positive impact on health.

Ryan Fabian, TCOP Class of 2025, learned that, when talking to patients, “you have to meet them where they are at. It’s pretty easy to come up with optimal drug regimens based on facts alone, but communicating all of that information is hard. I became more confident and was ready to jump into any conversation.”

Being able to counsel the multiple patients who feel rushed at the doctor’s office and do not know why they are taking certain medications was gratifying and confirmed the value of the work that lies ahead when they leave school and go to work.

Stephanie Tawfik, TCOP Class of 2024, said a patient she advised was taking over nine meds to control her diabetes, all prescribed by different providers. She was counseled to take them all and visit an endocrinologist to simplify her diabetic medication regimen.

“This small event was able to make a large impact in her life and may have even saved her. This showed me that the profession of pharmacy can truly change a patient’s life,” Tawfik said.