JPS patients face long waits for medications : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

Updated: Wednesday, May. 3, 2000 at 22:58 CDT

JPS patients face long waits for medications

By Charlotte Huff Star-Telegram Staff Writer

FORT WORTH -- Three hours after arriving at JPS Health Network's new central pharmacy, Cathy Jennings made it to the pickup window.

But once she got there, it took another hour for pharmacists to hand over her blood pressure medication and pain pills for her back.

More than 40 people were in line behind her.

"I have muscle spasms going on right now," the 35-year-old Fort Worth woman said. "They can't find my medication."

In the past couple of weeks, the mostly low-income people who use the JPS pharmacy have faced long waits for medication needed for severe or chronic medical problems.

A computer software glitch caused the problem, Ron Stutes, chief operating officer of the JPS Health Network, said yesterday.

Another pharmacy line was opened and other customer- service measures were begun yesterday to shorten the wait and ease the prescription backlog, he said.

"You obviously can't predict software glitches," Stutes said. "I'd like to emphasize our desire to provide a very high- quality service."

Centralizing the pharmacy system comes on the heels of an increase in medication costs from $3 to $5 per prescription for the poorest patients using JPS. When the pharmacy opened Dec. 6, JPS officials were criticized for long waits and the lack of a restroom or water fountain.

The plumbing problems were fixed, and the waits dropped off -- until recently.

Customers have reported standing in line for three, four or five hours at the pharmacy at 600 W. Rosedale St. Sometimes they have to stand in three lines to drop off prescriptions, to pay for them and finally to pick up their medication.

When the pharmacy opened, officials expected it to save the taxpayer-supported health system at least $800,000 annually by centralizing inventory that had been divided between John Peter Smith Hospital and four of its neighborhood health centers. Before the computer software problem, the pharmacy was close to its goal of filling prescriptions in less than an hour, Stutes said.

On Tuesday, County Commissioner Dionne Bagsby asked JPS officials to come to Commissioners Court next week to give a progress report on the pharmacy. Medications are vital to keeping people out of the hospital, she said.

"We could lose what's supposed to be an $800,000 savings pretty quick" if people have trouble getting drugs, Bagsby said.

JPS board Chairwoman Fran Fuller called the current situation "unacceptable."

"Something has to change; I don't know what it is," she said this week.

JPS officials said they haven't been tracking how long customers wait.

On Tuesday, Doris Conner, 78, was fourth in line at the pickup counter after standing in lines for the better part of four hours.

Misti Neagle, 38, also near the front, had arrived at noon. Neagle's doctor had prescribed medication to help her breathe better. But when she called her Stop Six neighborhood health center, she was told it would take a week for it to be sent there, she said.

Farther back, Daniel McGinness was holding his left arm crooked at the elbow while he waited to pick up an antibiotic. Blood was seeping through the bandage wrapped around a 2- inch abscess.

The 45-year-old Hurst resident had waited in one line for two hours to drop off his prescription and a third hour in a second line to pick it up.

He would have to abandon his place soon, he said, to pick up someone in Hurst. But he would return.

"I have to come back," he said. "They gave me a prescription and said if I don't use it, I will lose my arm."

The software problem involved a breakdown in communication between the automated pharmacy system and the hospital's computers, JPS officials said. The difficulty lasted about two weeks, ending April 27, but the backlog continued to snowball, spokeswoman Drenda Witt said.

"It got to its worst all of a sudden," she said.

Beginning yesterday, the pharmacy opened a new line for patients newly discharged from the hospital, Witt said. A registered nurse also was added in the waiting room to help patients.

Other planned measures include giving customers who are waiting in the lobby a higher priority in the automated computer system, Witt said. A third pharmacy shift will be added soon to speed the processing of the medication backlog.

The cost of JPS outpatient medications has risen from $11.8 million in 1995 to $13.4 million during the last fiscal year.

Last year, the JPS board cited rising drug costs when they raised medication charges for the poorest patients. That move, officials estimated at the time, would generate about $893,000 in additional annual revenue.

Also last year, the outpatient pharmacy at JPS Hospital was closed when the central pharmacy opened Dec. 6. In the past two months, pharmacies have been closed at the Arlington, Diamond Hill, Northeast and Stop Six health centers.

Residents who use the county's indigent health program must get their prescriptions through the Rosedale location to benefit from the $5 co- payment.

Officials encourage patients to order prescriptions by mail, saying they can get a three- month supply with a single $5 co-payment. But mail order doesn't work if medications are needed immediately, JPS patients say.

So they wait. Twice this week, there have been more than 80 people waiting for their medications in the front room of the pharmacy. The storefront is between a pawnshop and a discount store on Rosedale Street between Hemphill Street and Jennings Avenue.

On Tuesday, Dollie Poe- Maples waited so long that she missed her scheduled ride on a city bus for the disabled.

The 56-year-old woman, who has used a wheelchair since she had a stroke, arrived at noon to pick up her depression and seizure medication. When the bus arrived at 2:45 p.m., she was eight people from the front.

The bus driver agreed to wait a few minutes and those in line allowed her to move to the front.

"Then when I got there, they couldn't find my medication," said Poe-Maples, whose bus pulled out while she was at the counter.

The bus she scheduled for 5 p.m. never arrived. When she called again, the bus didn't pull up until after 6 p.m. She didn't get home to west Fort Worth until 7 p.m.

In the waiting area, a sign designates a separate pickup window for employees -- a setup that is frequently pointed out by frustrated patients. During recent visits, the employee window has been empty, while long lines stretched in front of others.

If an employee is not being helped, then that window should be used for other waiting patients, Stutes said yesterday.

One frequent complaint is that patients who call in ahead of time to order their medication still must start at the back of the pickup line, where the wait was at least four hours Tuesday afternoon.

Last week, Karlan Newberry said, she arrived at the pharmacy about 5:30 p.m. to pick up an antibiotic. Her father, 69- year-old Carl Howell Sr., had been discharged from JPS earlier that day after treatment for a bacterial infection.

She stood in the pickup line for two hours, Newberry said.

"The doctor had called it in and said it was a rush job," Newberry said. "They told me when I got up there that it would take two days to get it."

After Newberry said she would take her father back to the hospital, she got the medication.

And on Tuesday at 3:40 p.m., Jennings walked out triumphantly, waving her pain pills.

-- - (x@xxx.cQm), May 04, 2000

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