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Project SHINE offers free healthcare to RGV residents in Mission

Continuing their efforts of providing basic health care screenings for people in the Rio Grande Valley, students have brought Project SHINE to Mission for the second time in 12 years.

Project SHINE (Service & Help through Interprofessional Networking Experience), run by pharmacy students, was present at the Mission Parks and Recreation Center last Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Developed by the American Pharmacists Association Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP) at Texas A&M (College Station) according to Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy, these Aggie students have been setting up pop-up clinics all over the RGV once or twice every school semester since it began.

20181103 ProjectSHINEinMissionStudents provided free screenings of glucose and cholesterol levels, A1C monitoring, Body Mass Index (BMI) evaluations, as well as measured weight. In addition, free counseling from medical professionals was offered to people who were seeking further information about the medications they are currently taking.

“Sometimes we have guests at the event,” Lyna Lee, one of the pharmacy students and organizers of the event, said. “Today we have the Hidalgo Health Department, and they’re educating on the Zika virus.”

Several of the students organizing and working the free clinic have roots in the RGV, and were glad to be part of a program that has given them the opportunity not only to hone their skills, but also give back to their community.

“It also promotes that pharmacists do more than just ‘count pills,’ as people call it,” Lee said. “We can counsel them on the medications they are currently taking, any adverse effects that they are experiencing, or just more education that they didn’t realize about their medication. We can do more. There’s a lot that goes into our curriculum.”

According to Domingo Rodriguez, one of the students at the pharmacy school and Valley native, Project SHINE chooses where these clinics are set up depending on who is in the organization at the time.

“A member’s dad was able to get us this place [Mission Parks and Recreation],” Rodriguez said. “In the past, we’ve used places like the flea market, because we have relations with the School of Public Health, we’ve used a church that one of our members went to and several other locations.”

He said that because of the nature of the clinic, they cannot always rely on the same locations each semester.

“We can’t guarantee that we’ll get the flea market every time, or the church every time,” Rodriguez said. “So it’s good that we have a lot of members that can bring a lot to the table.”

For Rodriguez, who grew up without insurance, these clinics are important for the underprivileged in the community.

“My parents and I are okay now, but it could have been bad if I had juvenile diabetes or something and I didn’t know, or if my parents had diabetes and they didn’t know,” Rodriguez said. “Sometimes you just can’t afford it, so I think it’s good that we offer something for free, that anyone can come to and we can give them all the information they need.”

He noted that it wasn’t just students available at the clinic – preceptors who work with the university and have decades of professional experience in pharmacy were also available for questions and counseling.

“The knowledge they can give to patients is very valuable,” Rodriguez said. “It’s beyond the numbers we give them.”

Arizel Ortiz, another pharmacy student and Valley native, said they target the RGV area because most patients they see here are uninsured.

“Most of them don’t see doctors,” Ortiz said. “We encourage them to come in every time we have a health fair, because most of the time their follow-up from their last visit will be with us again.”

Ortiz added that due to lack of insurance, people in the area still won’t see a doctor after they’ve visited Project SHINE.

“Most of them still won’t seek out a physician’s help for what they find at these health fairs,” Ortiz said. “I think that’s the biggest part of Project SHINE, we want to maximize the amount of people we help and bring them into every event, that way they have a follow-up and they can see the trend in the state of the disease they may have.”

Getting the location set, ordering supplies through the school and getting approval for what is being provided took them about two months. The services were completely free of charge, but turnout was not strong in the morning.

“They’re slowly trickling in,” Lee said. “In the past, the afternoon is when it picks up more.”

Project SHINE also offered resources directing people to local centers and clinics that are free or offered at a discounted rate. The pharmacy students hope that people who may be intimidated by the white lab coats or medical garb may start to feel more comfortable coming forward and seeking their services when they visit the Valley.

“We know the culture here, and we know the pride that a lot of Hispanics like ourselves have, and [they] don’t want to seek help,” Brianna Garza, a pharmacy student and Valley native, said. “We know that, we’re familiar faces and we want to come back here and provide those services. We’re all family here. That’s important to us.”

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