What October also means
by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Electronic Communications Manager
In the world of health care, October is synonymous with one thing — breast cancer awareness. Which is great. Amazing actually. The amount of money raised every year by Susan G. Komen For the Cure is phenomenally important. And the awareness created about the disease — the push for self exams and early detection — is nothing short of astonishing. But at HPCCR, there is another thing (well, it’s actually a person) that we need to acknowledge and celebrate during October. And that’s Mike Bolewitz, our HPCCR pharmacist.
That’s right. October is also American Pharmacists Month. And it just so happens that, being a hospice organization, HPCCR dispenses quite a bit of medication. And it would be all the more difficult without Mike around.
Mike joined Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region after working in retail pharmacy and as a clinical pharmacist for a local hospital. While at the hospital, Mike became acquainted with HPCCR and was eventually brought on board as our first ever pharmacist in the fall of 2007. (Happy five-year anniversary, Mike!) Since having a pharmacist was new for us (and since Mike was new to hospice), the position evolved and grew as Mike learned the ropes. Because he was in such a specialized industry — end of life — he thought he would end up losing some of the broad knowledge gained through his previous positions and from his Doctor of Pharmacy degree (Duquesne University, 2002). But that was not the case. He found that he actually needed to learn more.
Most patients come under hospice care already on a number of medications for their primary diagnosis. But a lot can happen to a patient at end of life. A weakened body is susceptible to all kinds of infection as well as pain and other symptoms. As the system begins to fail, it’s very easy (and common) for the number of pills a patient takes to start growing.
Mike doesn’t let that happen though. He has become an expert in the area of drug interactions and is instrumental in helping our nurses figure out the best combination of medications for our patients, keeping them at a minimum. He is very conscious of “pill burden”, a term that refers to the number of tablets, capsules, and other forms of medicine that a patient takes on a daily basis. High pill burden decreases the effectiveness of different medications; too many, too often can actually begin to harm the patient rather than help (the difficulty of taking so many pills, the various interactions of all the drugs, the side effects, etc.). As such, he helps many patients cut their medications substantially, leaving only the ones that offer the most comfort.
So what are the other advantages, you may be wondering. Well for starters, having a pharmacist on staff allows us us to stock medications in an automated dispensing machine at Levine & Dickson Hospice House (and at our new inpatient unit in south Charlotte when it opens in December). Having meds available on site for our patients results in both cost and process efficiencies. Other hospices have to order medications from pharmacies individually for each patient, which is expensive and takes time. But because we have Mike, and because we have our own supply, we can quickly provide medications right when they are needed. Mike manages the dispensation process of the pills and ensures that we are complying with regulations. (As you might imagine, there is a great deal of scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administration on organizations that handle narcotics.)
Mike is also very involved in education. He offers pain and symptom management presentations at assisted living centers, speaks on our behalf at conferences, and also offers month-long internships to UNCC students. He is a resource to our nursing staff. And he often assists pharmacists in retail locations who are unfamiliar with the unique rules and regulations of the complex medications offered in the hospice setting.
I asked Mike to talk to me about a few of the things he’s learned since coming on board five years ago. He told me that what has really struck him is how unique hospice is within the spectrum of health care. In his words, “It’s a one-stop shop. The person is evaluated as a whole. We look at their entire medication profile and medical history to make decisions about the very best way to treat them.” He appreciates that we touch so many aspects of a patient’s care — not just the physical, but the mental, and spiritual too.
He has also been exposed to non-traditional “deliveries” of medications; experiences that have necessitated a creative approach to helping patients. “There are so many routes of delivery for medications that I wasn’t intimately familiar with before I started working for a hospice organization. We tend to think only of pills when it comes to pharmaceuticals, but we also can offer sublingual (under the tongue) medications, subcutaneous (under the skin) medications, and more.” It goes without saying that, throughout his time here, Mike has become a more well-rounded and knowledgeable pharmacist. And that was completely not what he was expecting when he chose to take a position in a specialized industry.
So it seems pretty obvious that Mike Bolewitz is a great pharmacist. But he’s also just a really great guy. He’s involved and passionate about Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region. In fact, he recently joined our Komen team, the Compassionate Soles, to walk the 5K that promotes awareness about breast cancer. (And, just like that, we’re back to where we started!) Which, if you think about it, is quite appropriate. A pharmacist supporting breast cancer awareness during the very month that honors them both. There’s got to be some karmic reward in there somewhere, don’t you think?Explore posts in the same categories: advocacy, awareness, cancer, education, end of life, hospice comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.