Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas
Mobile Pharmacy Delivers to Veterans
McKinney Street, located near downtown Houston, normally sees its share of large delivery trucks, and is a staple for commercial distribution sites. Following the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Veterans, and non-Veterans, are noticing an odd presence of vehicles operated by VA in this part of town.
But the presence isn’t odd to the VA employees who commit to serving Veterans every day. Although their work location has slightly changed. These employees have left their everyday jobs at a main medical facility or outpatient clinic, to operate the VA Pharmacy Benefits Management Mobile Pharmacy. They provide, at times, lifesaving medications Veterans may otherwise have gone without.
“We provide basic emergent meds that patients need immediately,” said Michael Burzic, emergency pharmacy specialist, who typically spends his days at the Hines VA in Illinois. “We can’t provide long term meds, but emergent meds for hypertension, diabetes, and asthma, and other basic medications for minor pain and injuries. We do not carry or distribute controlled substances.”
The employees operating the Mobile Pharmacy are part of the Disaster Emergency Medical Personnel System (DEMPS). Hundreds of VA staff have volunteered and trained at their home stations to respond as part of the DEMPS. The pharmacy staff who have deployed to Houston currently operate the Mobile Pharmacy. During their time in Houston they will relocate to different areas of the city, and outside the city, providing this critical need.
“I think this is a great service,” said Deanna Pomyjal, pharmacy technician from the Waco, Texas, VA. “This experience will help me at my facility to ensure we continue our readiness. I also like the fact we have VA employees from all over the United States, working as a team. We all speak the same language and have never met.”
Houston native, Felicia Reed says that her home is damaged and her family continues to put their lives back together. The U.S. Marine Corps Veteran noted that she heard about the Mobile Pharmacy through social media, and finding an opportunity to travel to the Houston VA has been difficult.
“I have never seen anything like this,” said Reed. “I think this is very helpful. Getting into the VA is hard right now, with everything. This is perfect. I needed medications, and I also missed my doctor appointment during all this. This is very convenient and helpful. I couldn’t get out of my neighborhood for seven days. I really appreciate this pharmacy, I had very few days left on my medicine. This is a lifesaver today, seriously.”
Having the pharmacy available did take some effort. The vehicle departed Illinois, then to Missouri, where it crossed the Texas state line, into Dallas. After stocking with medications in Dallas, the journey brought the pharmacy to Houston, where DEMPS staff quickly developed a plan.
“We are very proud to do this,” said Burzic. “It is challenging, but we do the best we can. We have secure satellite connection to the Houston VA prescription processing menus, and can quickly find the dosages and medications they require. There is also a doctor on site, to provide medical exams. We are bringing healthcare services to the patient, when getting to the medical center is difficult.”
“I feel very useful, and I know we are doing something good that benefits Veterans and the public,” said Neal Fourakre, clinical pharmacy specialist from the VA in Nashville, Tenn. “This has been a rewarding experience, and I hope I can help again.”
For many of the DEMPS staff, this is their first emergency activation; they say it has been a rewarding experience. They notice that the Veterans and non-Veterans, they serve, are thankful. And the discussion among Veterans, who have never met before today, shows that Houston is bouncing back and recovery is underway.
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