UNF Nursing students help clinic provide free medications to needy

Spinnaker

The lines for medical care at the Mission House clinic in Jacksonville Beach can stretch for hours in length. The patients in line know the harsh realities of life at the 200 percent poverty level, and that life in this socio-economic class can leave one with few places to turn for medical care and almost nothing to depend on.

Ashley Passwater, a UNF nursing senior, and a number of other students in the nursing program, are making the medical outlook for those living in poverty a little brighter through the Prescription Assistance Program, or PAP, at the Mission House clinic in Jacksonville Beach.

Passwater said the clients served are some of the most needy and deserving of help.

“They’re all just people like us, trying to get by, but they may have just been born in a different circumstance,” Passwater said.

The purpose of PAP is to find cheaper alternatives to medications for the clinic’s patients. UNF nursing students in the program research generic versions of medications doctors prescribe to patients.

The goal is to find drug companies willing to give medications for free or at a discount. The nursing students then complete the necessary paperwork to get the medications at cheaper prices.

The student-nurses work closely with licensed nurses and doctors at the clinic, who are all volunteers themselves, to reach the best outcome for each patient.

“No one [who receives help from Mission House] pays anything out of pocket,” Passwater said. “Everything is free.”

PAP started about four years ago as a collaborative effort between UNF nursing students and faculty with Mission House.

Rhonda Morris, clinic coordinator at Mission House, said the help UNF nursing students provide Mission House is invaluable.

“It’s wonderful having them here,” Morris said. “It eases the number of staff or volunteers I have to have here. It also teaches the students a lot; how to deal with different types of doctors and situations.”

Dr. Barbara Olinzock, associate professor in the nursing program, oversees the student nurses working at the Mission House. She said the work of student nurses at Mission House has made a lasting impact.

“These medications have gotten so expensive, that it’s really a drain on [Mission House’s] budget,” Olinzock said. “Last year they saved the clinic about $15,000 in costs. I’m sure if we keep at it, it’s going to be even more this year.”

The work of Olinzock and her students has been tedious and time-consuming, and though it began somewhat simply, their effort has not been noticed only by Mission House and its patients.

Last fall, Olinzock and her students applied for the Campus-Community Partnership Award through the Florida Campus Compact — a coalition of over 50 colleges and universities dedicated to promoting community service, service-learning and civic engagement.

The nursing students’ work at Mission House earned UNF the coveted title, beating out over 50 other colleges across the state. The shining symbol of their success is a trophy housed on the third floor of building 39A in the nursing department.

Olinzock said the award does not belong to UNF alone, however.

“It was the partnership that got the award,” she said. “It actually says ‘Mission House-UNF.’”

Passwater and fellow nursing student Michelle DeSauniers were present at the award ceremony with Dr. Olinzock and representatives from Mission House.

Passwater said she saw a need at Mission House and was drawn to it from the first day she worked there.

“It’s really meaningful,” she said. “We literally get to see the change we are making. [Patients] will wait for four to five hours for their medications, but once they’re enrolled in the program [PAP], they can just pick up their medications and go home. There’s no waiting.”

A patient at Mission House said the clinic has given her a great deal of stability after her life was turned upside down.

“I come to the clinic because I’m uninsured, my job pays little money and because the economy’s so bad,” the patient said. “I am so grateful because I would be lost without this clinic.”

She also said she feels very comfortable with the quality of care she receives from Mission House.

“I think they do better than a private practice. It’s on a more personal level,” she said. “One day I came in, sick and dizzy with the flu, and they took me right in; I didn’t have to wait. The doctors and the nurses, they kept a constant eye on me. They are such kind and genuine people.”

The patient said she doesn’t mind the long wait most days to see a doctor, however.

“When I get tired, I always keep in mind, ‘Hey, they’re giving up their time. They’ll get to me as soon as they can,’” she said. “And one day I came in here crying, and they sat with me, patted me on the knee and say, ‘It’s okay.’ That meant a lot.”

Lacey Read, a UNF nursing senior, has also worked at Mission House and said she sees it as an integral part of the beaches community.

“Mission House is the true meaning of community,” Read said. “They know everyone by name and they really care for each other. Usually, the guideline is that only 25 patients are seen on any given day, but I’ve seen as many as 38 people taken in.”

Hospitals, outreach centers, senior centers and even UNF’s Health Promotions team offer outlets for the UNF Nursing Program students to serve.

Read said she has gained a lot from those community ties.

“I like that I’m able to experience the different hospitals in the Jacksonville area because this is where I want to live and work,” Read said. “Working in so many different places has helped me get a better idea of what area or specialty I want to go into one day.”