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UTEP’s Health Team Assists at H.O.P.E. Fair

Last Updated on October 16, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Originally published October 16, 2017

By Daniel Perez

UTEP Communications

Hundreds of El Pasoans converged Oct. 10, 2017, at the Opportunity Center for the Homeless for the fall H.O.P.E. clinics that were staffed by an interdisciplinary group of health care representatives from The University of Texas at El Paso.

Sarah Jallad, a UTEP School of Pharmacy student, assists Hortensia Castro at the H.O.P.E. clinic Oct. 10, 2017, at the Opportunity Center for the Homeless. Photo: J.R. Hernandez/University Communications
Sarah Jallad, a UTEP School of Pharmacy student, assists Hortensia Castro at the H.O.P.E. clinic Oct. 10, 2017, at the Opportunity Center for the Homeless. Photo: J.R. Hernandez/University Communications

Faculty, staff and students from UTEP’s College of Health Sciences and the schools of Nursing and Pharmacy worked together along with a cadre of community partners to make the free event a success for neighborhood residents, including those who live at the Opportunity Center, 1208 Myrtle Ave.

The HO.P.E. (Health, Opportunity, Prevention, Education) fair, which had a morning and afternoon session, involved vital tests, screenings and checkups, and the chance to learn about such important topics as diabetes, domestic violence, breast cancer and mental health. Some participants received referrals after their checkups to visit the on-site Centro San Vicente health clinic.

“This is awesome,” said Jeremy “Bubba” Howell, a H.O.P.E. regular. “This collaboration helps the homeless population and it helps the students in health and social work. Many times they do not understand how to work with (people who are homeless).”

The clinics serve several purposes. One goal is to provide health care to people in need. Another is to provide UTEP students from several health disciplines with a real-world experience where they can use what they have learned in the classroom, but also take themselves out of their comfort zone.

Sarah Norman, Pharm.D., clinical assistant professor of pharmacy, said that these clinics expose students to a vulnerable population with a range of symptoms and diseases who may or may not get regular health care. Sometimes people will visit the clinic with a lot of different prescriptions, but not understand the correct way to consume them. The UTEP students will go over how to take the medicines, the purpose of each prescription and how each interacts with the others.

Even if there is initial trepidation on the students’ part, it often goes away as they see more patients.

“They end up having a great time interacting with the patients,” Norman said. “We want them to get healthy again. That’s the important thing.”

Norma Cruz was among the 20 pharmacy students who participated in the morning clinic. She is in the fourth year of the six-year UTEP Cooperative Pharmacy Program with The University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy.

Cruz spent much of her time behind an information table offering clinic participants small, clear goodie bags filled with toiletries and a pair of socks. The bags were incentives to start conversations. She said most of the visitors were curious about the purpose of their medications and the possible side effects.

“It’s been a busy morning,” said Cruz, who has participated in several H.O.P.E. fairs. “We build a trust and a rapport with a diverse population. It’s what we do. This is perfect job experience. We volunteer where there is a need.”

Cruz said some of her pharmacy peers were concerned at first about their preparedness and the people, but they became comfortable after dealing with some of the “regulars” who sought them out.

“I told them not to look scared,” Cruz said with a smile. “It makes the (participants) uncomfortable.”

John Martin, the Opportunity Center’s development director, said the center’s officials, patrons and neighbors were grateful for the collaborative clinics that provided multiple benefits, including to the students.

“Now their studies are grounded in reality,” said Martin, who added that he hopes more UTEP students from other departments become part of future H.O.P.E. clinics. “We want students to experience working with people who live with homelessness. The two sides can learn from each other.”

Martin said the center’s clients and neighbors enjoy their interactions with the University crowd. The simplest acts of saying hello and sharing a smile brighten their day.

“These folks love to see new faces,” he said, pausing for effect. “They’re tired of seeing mine.”