Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the United States earlier this spring, a patient in the Hispanic Clinic at the Connecticut Mental Health Center (CMHC) couldn't access her medication from the CMHC pharmacy. Third-year Psychiatry resident Sofia Noori, MD, knew she had to help.
The patient — Spanish-speaking, undocumented, and suffering from the time of COVID-like symptoms — had nobody to help pick up her medications.
“After witnessing all the barriers for this patient to simply receive her medications, why couldn't we just deliver them to her?” Noori said. “I brought the idea up to the PGY-3 resident group, who all agreed our patients could benefit from this service, and the residents ran with it.”
Noori and her co-residents, Hana Ali, MD, Ayala Danzig, MD, MSW, and Jessica Chaffkin, MD, held regular conference calls with CMHC’s John Cahill, MD, PhD, to determine the best way to approach a medication delivery program.
“Since we're all cooped up in the house, it felt really good to take something into our own hands and help,” Noori said. “Our patients already face a lot of barriers. We didn't want them to have to face another barrier of getting their medications amidst a global pandemic.”
The group spent time figuring out eligibility criteria, to ensure that they would capture all the patients who needed the service without imposing too many restrictions, and also ensure that the service could be reserved for those with no other options to get their medications, said Danzig.
“It’s been terrific to see this initiative develop in the midst of such a stressful time for CMHC’s patients and staff,” said Jeanne Steiner, DO, Professor of Psychiatry and Medical Director at CMHC. “The residents identified an important gap in access to medications for our outpatients during the pandemic and have implemented a thoughtful and generous solution. The importance of supporting patients in whatever means we have, including their ability to maintain consistent and safe access to prescribed medications, cannot be overstated.”
Chaffkin said: “It is nice to see patients wave from their front door, knowing that they were able to get the medications that they need without jeopardizing their safety.”
The team has worked the project in addition to fulfilling their regular clinical obligations, Danzig said. All referrals are due on Fridays at noon. After referrals are received, one volunteer picks up the prescriptions, while another calls patients to set a delivery time over the weekend. The time spent making deliveries over the weekend will vary based on the number of deliveries scheduled and the locations of the patients, Danzig said.
Two volunteers are present at each delivery, Danzig said, and volunteers travel in separate vehicles to adhere to social distancing guidelines. One person calls the patient to let them know they have arrived, and the other places the medication at the patient’s door and waits for them to pick it up. Spanish-speaking staff have helped facilitate communication with those patients, by calling the patients to arrange a delivery time to eliminate confusion from language barriers.
“During this time, it has felt really important to grow connections wherever an opportunity arises. This project has given me a chance to feel more connected with a phenomenal group of residents, as well as the broader New Haven community,” Chaffkin said.