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Strong Ties Award

Strong Ties Pharmacy Cited Among Best Practices by American Society of Health-System Pharmacists

A pharmacy satellite developed at a community-based mental health clinic to improve patient care has been cited among this year's best practices in health-system pharmacies. Representatives from the University of Rochester Medical Center and Strong Health's Department of Pharmacy are in New Orleans today to accept one of only six national Best Practices Awards at the 30,000-member American Society of Health-System Pharmacists' (ASHP) Midyear Clinical Meeting and Exhibits.

ASHP selected Strong's entry, “Establishment of an Ambulatory Pharmacy in a Community Mental Health Center,” among 80 applications from across the country. The annual award program recognizes innovation and outstanding leadership in health-system pharmacy, with emphasis on areas that significantly improve the quality of patient care. Accepting the award for the Medical Center and Strong Health are Pharmacy Director Thomas E. O'Brien, Pharm.D., and Kumar Maharaj and David Olson, pharmacists instrumental in developing and implementing the program.

The Strong Ties pharmacy, a satellite developed within Strong's established community mental health center, opened in 2000 to provide ambulatory pharmacy services to 1,100 clients with severe and persistent mental illness. “These clients face unique challenges as they recover and reintegrate into the community,” Maharaj said. “They frequently don't adhere to their prescribed treatment and require intensive medication management, especially since they are more likely to be diabetic and nicotine-dependent than the general population.”

Before the Strong Ties pharmacy opened, many of the program's clients had difficulty getting medications. They relied on a variety of retail pharmacies throughout the community that may have been inconvenient to access or did not regularly stock everything they needed. In many cases, clients would not comply with medication instructions because they could not afford their prescriptions if they lacked insurance or their co-payments were beyond their means.

The on-site pharmacy provides a one-stop resource for any medications that clients require, supported by a robust treatment adherence program, educational activities and wellness initiatives. To improve care, the Strong Ties pharmacy tracks client prescriptions, having refills ready as needed. Pharmacists notify providers when clients aren't taking medications or take them improperly, and provide access to free medications for those who cannot afford them by using stocks of samples and linking clients with programs that provide medications for indigent populations. In addition, the pharmacy's staff provides education programs to maximize the effects of medications in their treatment, and wellness programs to help with health issues commonly faced by its clients such as diabetes education and smoking cessation programs.

“The Strong Ties model demonstrates that clinical pharmacy can be successfully introduced to ambulatory clinics in health care systems,” O'Brien said. “It provides a template for the introduction of a clinical pharmacy practice that improves client outcomes, adds revenue to the health care system and enhances the profile of clinical pharmacy in the community. We are proud of Kumar and our team at Strong Ties and thrilled to see their efforts to improve patient care gain national attention.”

The novel pharmacy program has previously been cited with an Outstanding Service Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and East House Corporation's Quality Award.