UH Hilo College of Pharmacy, Nursing program to aid aging populations

May 20, 2009

When people need to go to Hawaiʻi County’s Aging and Disability Resource Center they will soon be able to get advice on medications from experts from the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo College of Pharmacy. The collaboration is due to funding from the Health Resource Services Administration from a grant that will also benefit UH Hilo’s Nursing program’s efforts to promote geriatric healthcare.

The project, entitled Pacific Island Geriatric Education Center, gives $22,000 each to the College of Pharmacy and the Baccalaureate Nursing Program to increase the amount of interdisciplinary geriatric care concepts with community projects. One of Pharmacy’s projects is to provide counseling at the Aging and Disability and Resource Center.

"We’ll be able to reach parts of the community through the Center for Aging and Disabilities that never have a chance to meet anyone from the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo," said Dr. John M. Pezzuto, dean of the College of Pharmacy. "In addition, our collaboration with our colleagues from Nursing on this grant allows us to reach inward as well and concentrate on similar health issues. It’s a win-win situation."

Nursing is using grant funds to support a conference benefiting geriatrics called "Pulama I Ke Ola" (Hold Life Precious), to be held on the Hilo campus May 21-22. Cecilia Mukai, an associate professor in nursing who has been a practicing Registered Nurse since 1973, said she envisions further collaborative efforts with Pharmacy to include mutual geriatrics coursework. Currently, she teaches one geritological healthcare course that is open to other disciplines.

"It’s part of our responsibility as healthcare professionals to work together and teach the whole experience of living healthily," Mukai said. "For the same reason, we are including a youth program and including high school students in our conference this year. We are trying to influence future generations, and the best way to do that will be by working together."

Through this collaboration, the Pacific Island Geriatric Education Center proposes to increase faculty expertise in the area of geriatric medicine. Work at the Aging and Disability Resource Center places Pharmacy faculty in the middle of 11 agencies that provide care and support.

"This collaboration between the County’s Office of Aging and the UH Hilo College of Pharmacy is a tremendous step forward for our island," said Hawaiʻi County Mayor Billy Kenoi. "It improves the quality of life for our elderly residents and their caregivers by having qualified pharmacists available to help them through the maze of medications with which they are often confronted.

"We are grateful to the College of Pharmacy for its willingness to participate in this valuable program for our residents, and we look forward to even more partnerships between the University and the County that will be as mutually beneficial as this one," he added.

Also called Kahi Malama, or "a place for caring," the Center acts as a single access facility that provides help to caregivers, seniors and individuals. The facility houses agencies such as the Hawaiʻi County Office of Aging, the local Area Agency on Aging, the ARC of Hilo, the Center for Independent Living, Coordinated Services for the Elderly, and the Hawaiʻi County Nutrition Program. A future tenant will be the State Department of Human Services.

"One of the reasons people are living longer is because of medications, so the contract with the College of Pharmacy is a natural fit," said Alan Parker, Executive on Aging at the center, which had a grand opening in November after three years of planning. "When you start working together, ideas just start popping up."

Faculty members will be available to start consulting with clients by September, according to Scott Holuby, an assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice who is also a licensed practicing pharmacist with a specialty in diabetes. He is working on getting supplies, such as computers and projectors, as well as planning group classes, field trips and one-on-one counseling.

"We can show people how to read medication labels, how to choose over-the-counter drugs and how to use their medications properly," Holuby said. "My goal is to encourage seniors to use their local pharmacist to help them get the most out of their medications."

Ultimately it will be a rotation site for students, he said. One role of the students will be to help the patients set up medication schedules. They will be able to print lists of medications with instructions, as well as provide additional written medical information from verified online resources available through UH Hilo.

"Our hope would be that this will lead to a geriatric residency opportunity for our students," said Dr. Edward Fisher, associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Pharmacy. "It’s the perfect opportunity for students to experience the various problems that geriatric patients encounter by observing other agencies in the Center."

For more information, call (808) 961-8626. For information on the College of Pharmacy, call (808) 933-2909 or email pharmacy@hawaii.edu.

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