Nursing homes have been ground zero for the havoc caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As of October 11, 60,491 of COVID-19 deaths were nursing home residents. That’s more than a quarter of all deaths nationwide caused by COVID-19. Several pharmacy students from Washington State University have decided to take matters into their own hands by providing virtual care to elderly patients in Yakima Valley nursing homes. While students will be creating videos to advise elderly patients, they need help to raise funds for tablets so that their patients are able to view these videos. The WSU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences caught up with the group of students and here is what they had to say about their project.

To contribute to their fund, and help nursing homes get access to much-need tablets, you can donate here.

WSU pharmacy students pose for a photo in one of the nursing homes at which they volunteer in spring 2018. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, students have not been able to meet with nursing home patients face to face. They hope to raise funds so that they can continue to guide patients virtually via tablets.

How did you get the idea to start this program?

The idea for this project came from a desire to continue providing care to senior residents in local retirement homes. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, our ASHP student society in Yakima organized monthly health fair events at these retirement homes where we would provide blood glucose and blood pressure monitoring services as well as comprehensive medication therapy management. Student pharmacists would volunteer their time to help at these events. As pharmacy professionals, we pride ourselves on being accessible to our patients. Since these health fairs were regular events, they gave senior residents a chance to get advice and care between their doctors’ visits. Many of the residents would come with bags full of medications and a list of questions. Our volunteers would help them understand their medications and medical condition, address their concerns, answer their questions, and identify potential problems and gaps in care. These outreach events were a great opportunity for student pharmacists to showcase their skills and training to work for our geriatric community. COVID-19 has made it unsafe for us to have these events in person, but we did not want to stop providing care to these patients, so we decided to make our events virtual. We are planning to deliver education about common disease states virtually through educational videos

What are some of the videos about and why are they needed?

Our goal with the videos is to provide accessible and engaging education about common disease states that affect nursing home residents. This will cover conditions we would be educating and counseling participants on during our in-person events such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). We are taking information that we have covered as a part of our training and presenting it in a way that is understandable, relevant, and appropriate for our older audience. The videos will also be a starting point for us to begin virtual discussions with participants, as well. We want to bring the same level of interaction and engagement we had during our in-person events to our virtual ones.

Which long-term facilities will you be working with for this?

We are working with several Yakima nursing homes including Rexford Manor, Orchard Park, and Sun Tower. Our student society has been partnered with Orchard Park and Sun Tower for a few years now but unfortunately, we were only able to visit Rexford Manor once before the pandemic. The health fairs were previously monthly, year-round events (even during the summer) but concerns about the virus have put these events on hiatus. We are excited to get them started again in a safe and virtual environment.

Can you discuss the demographic of who will be watching this video?

With aging comes a greater potential for chronic medical conditions. In addition to hyperlipidemia, diabetes, asthma, and COPD, older patients have many other comorbidities that can make managing their conditions very difficult, even for professionals. That is where our virtual health fairs come in! Our educational videos, pamphlets, and virtual counseling will help them understand these complex conditions. The residents at these nursing homes are generally older but still independent and active. Since they are active participants in their own care, it’s important that they get all the help they need in managing their medications and health conditions.

How much money are you hoping to raise?

Our initial goal is to raise $1,000 that would go towards buying personal protective equipment, printing costs, and supplying one tablet computer to each of our partnered nursing homes. These tablets will be useful since many nursing home residents may not have their own electronic devices to engage with our video education and virtual counseling. After this goal is met, any additional donations will go towards purchasing additional tablet devices that will be made available for seniors to borrow. The tablets will continue be a valuable tool at the nursing homes, even after the risk of COVID-19 has gone away. Although we tried to make our in-person events very regular and frequent, having the option to do events virtually will help increase access that the participants will have to our services. As members of the healthcare community, we should anticipate the long-term effects that the virus will have on all aspects of life. Having these new resources will help our student organization adapt to those changes. We hope that we can get help and support from the Cougar community to help us provide care to senior residents in Yakima. With their donations, we can ensure that student pharmacists will continue to showcase their skills for our community.

How will you put these videos together?

These videos are educational videos, created by our student pharmacists and reviewed by our faculty and preceptors. No access to the facilities is needed for the making of these videos. Our group is responsible for developing the content from guidelines and literature.