Shawn Sanders limped into the New Life Health and Wellness Center one Sunday morning to learn more about the bullet wound in his leg. He was shot two years ago and underwent surgery then, but Sanders has to leave his homeless shelter at 8 a.m. every day and does more walking than is recommended for proper healing. He was told at a recent visit to the hospital that his foot might need to be amputated. Worried about the possibility of losing his throbbing foot, Sanders sought another option.
Foot injuries like Sanders’ are one of the most common conditions seen at free clinics around Columbus, said Anna Haas-Gehres, a pharmacist and Ohio State professor who oversees the College of Pharmacy’s involvement with the clinics.
Haas-Gehres started working at New Life during her time in pharmacy school at the university and has since helped the college get involved in free clinics all over the city. There are currently more than 175 pharmacy students providing pharmaceutical services at six free clinics throughout Columbus.
Each clinic provides a different set of services based on resources and physicians available. Whether the clinic is treating high blood pressure, an infection or the flu, having a connection to the College of Pharmacy is valuable, Haas-Gehres said.
“A lot of it has to do with dispensing medications or finding ways to provide access to those who do not have insurance for medications that are expensive,” she said. “We tend to be the experts in that and so we provide that as a resource to the clinics.”
The free clinics serve patients who are not only uninsured, but also those who are unable to access medical care. Haas-Gehres said while there was an increase in the amount of insured individuals with the Affordable Care Act, “the ability to have a primary care physician consistently and also then access them during normal working hours is not something all patients can do.”
Working to evaluate a community’s needs are among the responsibilities of Ohio State pharmacy students who work in these clinics. As Haas-Gehres teaches students to work with populations they might not know much about, she finds that many of them come to enjoy the work.
“Going into pharmacy school I always thought that I wanted to do work with the underserved — just from my experiences in undergrad and high school. And I think working at the free clinic just reaffirmed that,” said third-year pharmacy student Kristine Duly.
Duly is the student leader for the Helping Hands Health and Wellness Center on Morse Road in the north side of Columbus. She coordinates all of the student volunteers and serves as a liaison between the clinic directors and the College of Pharmacy. She said her favorite part of the work is getting to help so many people.
“Patients will tell us afterwards things like, ‘If not for you I don’t know where I would be right now.’ [Or], ‘If I’d still be living I probably wouldn’t be able to access my medication,’” Duly said.
Haas-Gehres said some patients come by every week just to say “hi” or get their blood pressure checked. They walk out the door with a smile on their face, assured that someone will care for them if they are ever in need.
For now, Sanders also walks away with good news. When volunteer podiatrist Jim Ritchlin inspected the bandaged foot he reported: “You got a good pulse here, so no reason you’ll have to take the foot off.”
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