Capitol Hill Health Fair: Showing Congress what pharmacy has to offer

Annual event held during American Pharmacists Month

Alayna Ribovich, Shenandoah University student pharmacist, checks a patient’s blood pressure.

At the third annual Capitol Hill Health Fair on October 28, Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA) made his way through the bustling Rayburn House Office Building foyer, thanking and encouraging the pharmacists and student pharmacists manning stations for various health screenings and influenza vaccinations.

“Hey, I’m Buddy Carter,” he said to a beaming group of student pharmacists from Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy at their table for checking blood glucose and cholesterol. “Know what you’re going to be yet?” 

Carter sponsored the Hill health fair, which was hosted by APhA, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, the National Community Pharmacists Association, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, and Walgreens during American Pharmacists Month in October.

Influenza vaccinations were administered by Walgreens pharmacists, and screenings for blood glucose, cholesterol, blood pressure, body composition, and bone density were provided by faculty and student pharmacists from Howard University College of Pharmacy, Notre Dame of Maryland University School of Pharmacy, Shenandoah University Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy, University of Maryland Eastern Shore School of Pharmacy, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, and Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy.

More than 200 people registered for influenza vaccinations and/or health screenings.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Carter said of the health fair. “I know everyone who stopped by here is highly impressed. This gives them an idea of the various services that pharmacists can provide.”

‘Awesome opportunity’

Virginia Commonwealth University fourth-year student pharmacist Lindsay Ritenour provided the blood glucose and cholesterol screening for Carter during his stop at the table.

“It’s an awesome opportunity to show what pharmacists are capable of,” Ritenour said. “It’s great to have different Members of Congress get to learn about what different services pharmacists can offer. It’s great to interact with the people who are leading the country and making decisions for all of us.”

At an adjacent table, Howard University faculty and student pharmacists were providing blood glucose and cholesterol screenings as well. The screening consisted of a complex blood draw process; a CardioCheck machine to measure levels of glucose, total cholesterol, and HDL; and determining if levels were within range (depending on whether the patient had fasted), according to Jessica Mendez, a third-year student pharmacist at Howard.

Said Jeri Sparling, a scheduler in the office of Rep. John Delaney (D-MD), looking away from her thumb: “I just hate needles. I can’t watch.” Friendly and expressive, Sparling added, “They let us know our health. It’s a great service for everyone” on a busy day.

Near the body composition and bone density screening stations, Caroline DeBerry, legislative assistant for Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (R-TN), said the health fair was a “good, helpful” experience for her. “I appreciate them providing these services today,” DeBerry said.

University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s Greta Park, a second-year student pharmacist, and Deborah Sarmiento, a third-year student pharmacist, explained the body composition screening station. Patients were to take off their shoes and socks; share their age, height, and gender; and step onto the scale while holding out a device with both arms. After approximately 10 seconds, the machine would calculate body mass index, skeletal muscle, percentage of body fat, and body age.

On his way from one station to another, Adam Russell, communications director for Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), said “curiosity” had prompted him to stop by. “I did know that pharmacists were capable, but I’ve never done one,” Russell said, referring to the pharmacy-provided health screenings. 

‘Important in every way’

Out in front of the foyer, Heather Free, PharmD, AAHIVP, pharmacy manager at Community, a Walgreens Pharmacy in Washington, DC, was introducing herself to people as they walked by to let them know about the health fair. The pharmacists’ patient care services being demonstrated at the health fair were “just the beginning,” she said. “Most people were very interested.”

“I explained to them that we recently had the majority of the House support our bill, H.R. 592,” Free said, referring to the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act (H.R. 592/S. 314). “I explained to them pharmacists and provider status and Medicare, and how important it is to acknowledge pharmacists as an integral part of the health care team.”

APhA Executive Vice President and CEO Thomas E. Menighan, BSPharm, MBA, ScD (Hon), FAPhA, came to the health fair and went through the screenings. “It’s fantastic to see pharmacists plugged into the congressional process,” Menighan said. “It shows Members of Congress and their staff what we have to offer.”

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) said his next-door neighbor back home was a pharmacist in Lexington, SC. “I really do appreciate what pharmacists mean to our community,” Wilson said. “I appreciate investments in jobs.” For the implementation of “Obamacare,” he continued, “pharmacists were there to help give people advice. I’m grateful for the pharmacy profession. They are important in every way.”

At about the 3-hour mark of the health fair, which ran from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm, the curtains of rain visible through the high windows lifted for a bit, though the sky remained gray.

At the Walgreens station, Norman Gutierrez, who works for the Architect of the Capitol, received his influenza vaccination with a smile crinkling his face. “I feel so good,” he said. “They’re nice people. They treat you so sweet. I’m coming every year.”

Virtual Advocacy Day

October 28 was also Virtual Advocacy Day—an effort led by the Patient Access to Pharmacists’ Care Coalition (PAPCC), which is urging Congress to enact the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act (H.R. 592/S. 314). On Virtual Advocacy Day, pharmacists and student pharmacists were to send letters to and call Members of Congress. Nearly 2,000 letters were sent by 616 pharmacists and student pharmacists in 41 states for more than 310 Members of Congress. APhA is a member of PAPCC.