VICENZA, Italy - Roughly 300 prescriptions are filled a day at U.S. Army Health Clinic Vicenza, which serves a population of approximately 13,000 Service Members, family members and retirees at both Vicenza and Darby Military Communities in Northern Italy, totaling close to 110,000 prescriptions annually.
What is more astonishing than the diligent efforts the clinic staff devotes to patient care is their ability to contribute beyond pharmacy operations.
After a tour as a combat engineer, U.S. Army Spc. Siary Williamson wanted to pursue his dreams of becoming a pharmacist. When the opportunity to change his occupation arose, Williamson decided to change his military occupational specialty to 68Q, or an Army pharmacy technician specialist. What he didn’t expect was the broad experience he would receive beyond pharmacy operations at USAHC Vicenza.
With only months at the Army’s only health clinic in Italy, Williamson, along with the rest of the Vicenza Military Community, found himself amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Italy was one of the first European nations to feel the effects of the pandemic as they began implementing regional quarantines starting in late February 2020, including the province of Veneto, the area in which USAHC-V is located.
According to Williamson, at the onset of the pandemic, there were certain programs implemented in response to the need for social distancing and restriction of individuals allowed in the clinic.
Pharmacy leaders were unsure of how patients would come in out of the clinic with all the lockdowns and quarantines in the region, explains Williamson, a Long Beach, California native.
Using the health center’s existing porte-cochère, the covered driveway in front of the main entrance, pharmacy staff introduced a drive-through pharmacy service to better protect patients and staff during the start of the pandemic.
“That was a real big effort at the start of the pandemic,” said Williamson. “We took the pharmacy out to the patients.”
Additionally, because privileged pharmacists can provide a broad spectrum of services within their scope of practice, their roles expanded to include assisting patients with certain needs such as birth control, immunizations, smoking cessation and other ailments which would have traditionally been addressed by physicians. In turn, their efforts improved access to care, Soldier readiness and decreased contact in the community. Responses like these further inspire Williamson toward becoming a pharmacist.
“I always felt that energy of helping others and especially families, drive me the most,” said Williamson, a father of one himself. “I love (the occupation). I wanted to get the experience of the pharmacy technician to see what they go through.”
Williamson’s drive isn’t surprising to the clinic’s leaders who describe him as a quiet professional.
“[Williamson] is very diligent about everything he does, has a great working relationship with people inside and outside of the pharmacy, and has shown himself to be a great leader,” said U.S. Army Maj. Brittany Latimer, chief of Ancillary Services at USAHC Vicenza. “I'm very happy to have him be a part of the team and take care of such important initiatives.”
Nearly a year after the first COVID-19 cases were reported in Italy, USAHC Vicenza began community vaccination efforts, an all-hands-on-deck campaign. Like before, pharmacy technicians found themselves going above and beyond to help fight the pandemic.
“It's great to see how far (USAHC Vicenza) has come in a short amount of time (throughout the pandemic) and for us to be involved with vaccinating and make an impact,” said Williamson. “It's a great opportunity to not only serve the Soldiers and beneficiaries here but to also serve the community.”
USAHC-V, often referred to as “Army Medicine South of the Alps,” is the only health clinic at Caserma Ederle in Italy, an Italian-controlled military installation which is home to the 173rd Airborne Brigade, the U.S. Army’s contingency response force in Europe. Additionally, the clinic provides medical support during regional military exercises.