Community Should Rally Behind Local Pharmacies

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

In November, the residents of Countrywood Assisted Living and their families were informed by Donna Crabtree, the Regional Director of parent company Meridian Senior Living, that a closed pharmacy called Sequoia Pharmacy will be the preferred pharmacy for the center. A closed pharmacy provides services exclusively to nursing homes, assisted living centers and hospitals rather than being open to the general public.

Residents could continue to use their current local pharmacists, but only if they agreed to an additional $150 on their monthly bill. They were given less than two weeks to decide. Prescription Medicare Part D plan changes were due Dec. 7, adding further complexity to their decision.

To my knowledge, only two meetings were held at the center about this change. At the first meeting when asked how the $150 charge would be spent, Crabtree did not give an answer. At the second meeting, she said it would be pay for a medicine cart and additional staff training. She stressed that Sequoia would offer the center quarterly audits, medication reviews and special instructions for administering medication. Local pharmacies already provide these services.

From where I stand, the $150 monthly charge is punitive and meant to ensure patients do not use local pharmacies. Assisted living centers often have a clause in their contracts with residents that states their policy regarding the use of a closed or preferred pharmacy and the fee for non-participating residents. At this time, Countrywood does not have this clause in their contract and having Meridian Senior Living strong-arming residents to now pay a “pharmacy penalty” would appear to be inappropriate at best and potentially illegal.

There are six local pharmacies in Kingfisher County – four in Kingfisher, one in Hennessey and one in Okarche. Not one of these pharmacies was contacted regarding the change nor offered the opportunity to bid on the contract. Crabtree did not produce the names or bids of other closed pharmacies she claimed to have contacted. Kingfisher County is blessed to have knowledgeable, experienced pharmacists with one goal in mind, to provide the best care, advice and treatment to their customers. Sequoia may have knowledge and competency, but they don’t have the connections or the resources local pharmacies have here.

Crabtree was asked several pointed questions meant to contrast the quality of service between local pharmacies and Sequoia. Could Sequoia deliver emergency medications within 45 minutes of receiving an order? Now, I have been known to exceed the speed limit from time to time, but I think you would agree that a trip from a business located in the general vicinity of Will Rogers World Airport to Kingfisher in 45 minutes is quite difficult on its own even without factoring in the time it would take to process and package a medication. Local pharmacies deliver new medicines immediately after receiving and processing and order in less than 20 minutes. If an order was placed at 2 a.m., when would Sequoia deliver it? Residents would receive the medication from Sequoia on the following day. Local pharmacies can provide medications to the center at 2:30 a.m., if necessary. Advice regarding medications? Sequoia gives advice monthly whereas local pharmacies are available 24 hours, 7 days a week.

I think this is another example of undercutting small, rural pharmacists, ultimately reducing access to health care and taking dollars out of our local economy. This is a continuing trend toward the “socialized medicine” approach that consolidates health care services of all kinds down to a few large providers that can be managed by the government, insurance companies and drug companies with greater ease. From what constituents and the residents of long-term care facilities tell me, this is not what the people want.

I would encourage all Kingfisher residents to contact Donna Crabtree to voice your concern. She is available at (936) 645-4550 or dcrabtree@meridiansenior.com.

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