Moments in Pharmacy: Compassion, can-do attitude expands vaccination program for veterans

The Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, MA, keeps a limited formulary for vaccines. For this non-Medicare facility, this meant that either the pharmacy was not reimbursed for administering vaccines or the veteran had to absorb the cost of taking a taxi to a nearby pharmacy and paying out of pocket.

Jerry Munic, RPh, MBA, director of pharmacy for the Soldier’s Home, decided in mid-2018 to take action to improve his patients’ access to important preventatives such as Prevnar-13 and Shingrix. After receiving the go-ahead from his medical director and management, Jerry contacted colleagues at the Western New England University College of Pharmacy (WNE) where he serves as a preceptor and asked for help.

From there, Dr. Kam Capoccia, Clinical Professor of Community Care Practice at WNE, worked with Jerry to establish a program within the school’s residency program. Pharmacy residents work out of a Big Y supermarket wellness center located in Springfield, not far from the Soldiers’ Home.

The Soldiers’ Home includes a 247-bed in-patient hospital, a 30-bed independent living facility, and an outpatient clinic for veterans who live in the surrounding area.

Pictured above (l to r): Kam L. Capoccia, community-based residency program director, Western New England University; Jerry Munic, pharmacy director at Holyoke Soldier’s Home; Maria Charbonneau, Big Y pharmacy resident; and Stephanie Cloutier, Big Y pharmacist.

WNE residents now run the collaborative vaccination program, taking faxed orders from staff at the Solders’ Home, collecting insurance information for billing, and scheduling appointments.

The pharmacy residents come to the Soldiers’ Home every two weeks armed with paperwork and coolers packed with the supplies needed for that’s day’s doses to be administered. They work with the nursing staff and give the vaccines wherever it is most convenient for the veteran. Sometimes that means several veterans gather in a common area and sometimes the pharmacy resident goes to an individual’s room.

In the first two weeks of the program, 30 vaccinations were administered, with $0 co-pay for the veterans and a cost-avoidance of $5,000 for the Soldiers’ Home pharmacy. Eventually, Munic expects the program to cover all the vaccines the Soldiers’ Home doesn’t include in its formulary. He also predicts the visits will gradually slow to once a month, after their backlog is eliminated.

This collaboration has worked so well that the Big Y-WNE team plans to bid on delivering annual flu shots in the fall. Munic expects this arrangement to greatly improve the number of veterans vaccinated for flu season since the Big Y team will come on-site over several days compared to its current vendor who comes for only one day.

“While I’m pleased that our partnership with Big Y and WNE means our veterans are better protected without us incurring an unreimbursed cost, the most important thing is that our veterans are getting the Prevnar-13 that they otherwise would not,” said Munic. “It’s my hope that this program leads to fewer cases of pneumonia in our patient population.”