Students from the American Society of Health System Pharmacists (ASHP) student chapter in Yakima gather for a photo in early 2019 after a day of counseling at a local long-term care facility in Yakima, Wash. Students counsel residents on optimizing medication therapy, and managing chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. With COVID-19, restrictions have prevented students from offering this service.

When Yakima County senior housing centers closed their doors to the public as a COVID-19 precaution, pharmacy students at Washington State University wondered how they could still get critical health care-related information to the residents inside.

They considered several ideas, from pamphlets to online discussions, but decided that paper could easily be lost and not all older residents would have access to technology or know how to use it.

A solution surfaced: donated electronic tablets that residents could use to watch videos the students would create.

Before the pandemic, students organized monthly health fairs at retirement homes. That meant the university had existing relationships, including with Rexford Manor, Orchard Park and Sun Tower, where residents are older but still active and independent.

The students set a goal to raise $1,000 to provide each of the three centers with a tablet.

As of Monday afternoon, they had raised $700, bringing their idea that much closer to becoming a reality.

Megan Giruzzi, an assistant professor in WSU’s College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences who is overseeing the project, said the goal is to improve access to and continuity of care.

The videos will cover common health issues among seniors, including diabetes, hypertension and asthma, and serve as a starting point for virtual discussions that follow.

“Forming relationships with patients helps to build trust and ultimately leads to better patient-centered care,” Giruzzi said. “We are hoping to not only provide videos but also have one-on-one video calls with the residents, to not only discuss their health but also to continue to strengthen our relationships and help the residents know that they are not alone.”

David Conway, who works at Orchard Park, said visits from WSU’s pharmacy students pre-COVID were a blessing — not just because residents could learn proper medical techniques and have their questions answered, but also because of the interaction.

“The residents are missing seeing the students from WSU,” he said. “The presentations about diabetes, exercise, blood pressure and stress were well received.”

Conway said a tablet would allow staff to go room to room to show the videos to residents. He said he could already think of a couple residents who don’t have computers or smartphones and would love a “visit” from their friends at the university.

Giruzzi said the students are also benefiting from the project, picking up lifelong skills that will help them with their careers as health professionals.

“The entire process has been a learning experience for the students, and they are picking up new things each day,” she said. “Through this experience, they have learned multiple new skills that will be valuable as they head out into their careers.”

Virginia Gonzalez, a student who helped organize the in-person health fairs prior to COVID, said she got behind the idea for the tablets to help senior patients stay connected during this time of isolation and quarantine.

“Even before getting into pharmacy, I liked helping and serving,” she said. “We really do miss the interaction with the residents. It makes me feel good to have the support of the community. The support has been overwhelming.”

Conway had one additional piece of advice for those with loved ones in nursing homes.

“Sons and daughters, grandsons and grand-daughters, call your moms and dads, grandads and grandmas, please,” he said in an emailed statement. “They want and NEED to hear from you.”

Reach Lex Talamo at ltalamo@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @LexTalamo.

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