Research shows that medication-related problems are one of the top reasons for hospitalizations and for older adults losing the ability to live independently, either due to competing side effects, falls, over prescribing, or improper adherence. Increasingly, people are living longer with chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes—illnesses that are primarily treated with medications. The Pew Research Center reported that roughly 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day, and that by 2030, eighteen percent of the U.S. population will be over 65 years of age.
As drug research advances and medications become more specialized, personalized, and complicated to select, the need for providers with expertise in medication choices, chronic illnesses, and drug interactions grows. An under-utilized resource in managing patient medication therapy and chronic illnesses in older adults is the pharmacist. Joy, ’51, ’56, and Elmer Plein, along with other UW faculty colleagues, pioneered the education and training of geriatric pharmacy care specialists, a specialty that is increasingly in high demand. Clinics, health systems, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and hospitals in Washington and nationwide are turning to pharmacists for their specialized medication knowledge to improve patient health, particularly for chronic illnesses that can be managed through proper use of medications.
In May 2016, the UW School of Pharmacy proudly announced the establishment of the Plein Center for Geriatric Pharmacy Research, Education & Outreach. The Plein Center will expand the School of Pharmacy’s role as a leader in the field of geriatric pharmacy to encompass the breadth of disciplines within the School of Pharmacy and beyond. The Pleins have also established the Plein Endowed Faculty Fellowship for the Director of the Center.
The new research center will promote the discovery and optimal use of medications in older adults through research, education, and outreach. Research will bring together the depth of UWSOP’s practice, outcomes and bench science research in basic biomedical, translational, clinical, and health services studies. Researchers will collaborate on projects that look at optimizing medication use including medication management, adherence, and safety; the role of drugs in prevention and treatment of health conditions affecting older adults (e.g., falls, fracture, cognitive decline, dementia diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders); and methods for enhancing pharmacists’ impact on improvement of care for older adults and underserved populations. The Plein Center will also include training programs in geriatrics for PharmD students and others, building on the existing Plein Certificate Program in Geriatric Pharmacy.
“With the addition of the School of Pharmacy’s Plein Center for Geriatric Pharmacy Research, Education and Outreach, the University of Washington continues to lead the way in geriatric health care,” said Sean D. Sullivan, professor and dean of UW School of Pharmacy. “Our School is co-located with UW Medicine, Nursing, Social Work – each offering geriatric specialty training and highly regarded research centers. With our collaborative, interprofessional approach to training, the School of Pharmacy is positioned to fully participate in a comprehensive approach to healthy aging.”
Joy and Elmer have devoted their lives to the field of pharmacy. Individually, both were trailblazers in the field. Elmer joined the UW School of Pharmacy faculty in 1938. He was responsible for a number of major initiatives, including founding the UW’s clinical pharmacy program in 1968, one of only two such programs in the West. Joy is widely credited for creating the momentum for senior-care pharmacy in Washington state, at a time when few pharmacists were geriatricians and there were even fewer resources to advocate for older patients. In 1973, she and Elmer developed a nursing home pharmacy course, leading to the establishment of the Certificate Program in Geriatric Pharmacy, now named for the Pleins.
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