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Texas RN Helps Bring Vials of LIFE to Community

Monday May 3, 2010
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Juanita Hernandez, RN
(Photos courtesy of Texas Health Forth Worth)
One fateful day in February 2009, Juanita Hernandez, RN, BSN, and a team of five nurses from her Texas Health Fort Worth med/surg unit attended a best practices conference that detailed a program that changed her life. Hernandez, her colleague Laura Craig, RN, and the rest of the team were introduced to the Vial of LIFE (Lifesaving Information for Emergencies) program in which simple medicine vials are promoted as storage devices for up-to-date medical information. The vials are accessed by first responders when they are called to the home of a program participant.


Laura Craig, RN, with the finished product.
“When we heard about the program, we knew we wanted to bring it to our community,” Hernandez says. She and Craig, unit council co-chairs, introduced the project to their unit team — with the support of Linda Martin, RN — and took a leadership role in implementing it. “Vial of LIFE won hands down in a unit vote when we were deciding what community project to take on. It has been a joint project since the beginning.”

“What we found on our units is that patients often don’t arrive with the right information on their meds or other details we need for their treatment,” Hernandez says. “Or they or a family member will run a ‘scoop and grab’ in which they grab all the meds in the medicine cabinet and bring them to the hospital. That’s great, but some meds may be expired or a doctor might have changed the dosage or prescription. We see it again and again. And the dangers of not having this information can be profound.”


Texas Health Forth Worth's Vial of LIFE team
After the vote, the team spent the next six months preparing to implement Vial of LIFE in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The program began in 1981 in Sacramento, Calif. The first challenge was to design and get cost-effective bids for the vials and printed materials, Hernandez says, but printer Dale Rexroat assisted in getting these issues solved quickly. After the vial and its components were designed and ready, first responders who transported patients to hospitals in the area were trained on the program. “Our target audience was mostly the elderly and infirm in the community; not necessarily our own patients, because we already have all of their information.”

Medicine vials containing two stickers imprinted with “Vial of LIFE” are distributed to community members. Inside the vial is a form and a flier that explains how the program works. Participants or their family members take a few minutes to fill out a form with up-to-date information on medications, allergies and recent medical issues. There’s also a spot on the form for indicating if a person has advanced directives in place and where these orders are located. Hernandez says personal information such as Social Security numbers are not requested on the form.

The completed form is stored in the vial, which is then placed inside the refrigerator. One red sticker adheres to the front door of the residence, while the other sticker is placed on the refrigerator door. The stickers indicate to first responders trained on the program that the patient is a program participant and the medicine vial can be found in the refrigerator. The first responders then can retrieve the vial and use the information in their immediate treatment of the patient and bring the information to the hospital with the patient.

After all the i’s were dotted and the t’s crossed, the program was ready to kick off in September 2009. Distribution began with employees for their family members and quickly spread to community events. Twenty thousand vials have been distributed in the Dallas/Fort Worth area since, with more being produced on a regular basis.

“The community was hungry for this,” she says. “People are asking us if they can take this program and the vials to their churches, senior dances, fundraisers and so on. ‘Can I bring 100 vials? Can I bring 200 vials?’ is what we’re often asked.”

Nurses on Hernandez’s med/surg unit came together to produce the vials. “We would have assembly parties to put the vials together,” she says. “Also our senior volunteers have been assembling vials and helping out. So many people help us to pass them out.” The original goal was to distribute 100,000 to saturate the community and make the program effective, which requires financing. Although it’s not a hospital-run or financed program, the Texas Health system is more than supportive of these nurses’ efforts. The hospital foundation set up a trust account for donations, which come from different sources, including employees, and more funding is coming in. Hernandez says they were prepared to solicit funds from local businesses, but the foundation helped out with start-up costs and more to cover the vials, which add up to a little less than a dollar each.

“A nurse can spend an hour verifying a patient’s medical history and medications,” Hernandez says. “The vials save them time and, therefore, money — much more than the cost to produce the vial.”

Hernandez and her team hope to take the program to every hospital within Texas Health system. “I’m amazed at how many people have said they want to help in our efforts,” Hernandez says. “They’re willing to help because they see the value in it. We’re just so honored to bring Vial of LIFE to our community.”

To request vials, call 877-THR-WELL. To make a donation, contact Laura Quenette McWhorter at the Texas Health Harris Methodist Foundation at lauraquenette@texashealth.org.


Sallie Jimenez is a regional editor.