HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) – A frustrating formula of drug shortages, staffing issues and communication problems are causing problems at pharmacies nationwide.
When an E.R. doctor prescribes a drug for a chronic condition that’s getting worse – or a loved one needs medication to keep from having potentially deadly seizures – you need stress-free dependable service at the pharmacy counter.
But instead, customers of two local Rite Aids say their recent experiences have been stressful.
In one Portsmouth case, a woman had a month-long battle to get seizure medicine for her teenage daughter. Meanwhile in Gloucester, a woman was holding her breath, hoping that her emergency prescription would be available.
In fact, Fran Johnson never breathes easily. “I’m on oxygen,” she said during an interview this week at her home in Saluda. “I have to carry my oxygen tank.”
But an infection last month made her chronic bronchitis even worse, and an ER doctor prescribed an antibiotic. Her Rite Aid in Gloucester said they didn’t have it and transferred the prescription to a Rite Aid in West Point.
Her friend, Carlena Pacheco, would pick it up, or so she thought, when she got to the counter and talked with that pharmacist.
“[The pharmacist] looks at me and she says ‘Who told you that we have this, who sent you here?’ And I said, ‘the Main Street Rite Aid’. And she said, ‘They do this all the time’.”
Johnson finally got her antibiotic from Walgreens, however she’s keeping several other prescriptions on file with Rite Aid. But she says it keeps getting tougher to communicate with them.
“For one, they don’t answer their phone, so the only way you can communicate with them is to get in the car and go all the way up there,” Johnson said.
That sounds familiar to Kelly Powell of Chesapeake.
“When you call, they don’t answer.”
Powell gets three different medications from the Rite Aid on Hodges Ferry Road in Portsmouth for her daughter, who has epilepsy and autism.
“It’s extremely important because she has constant mini-seizures. It’s mini-seizure, mini-seizure, mini-seizure. It’s just a matter of when a mini-seizure pushes through to a major seizure.”
Her daughter’s particular type of epilepsy can be deadly. “When she has a full seizure, her seizures are actually shutting down her respiratory system,” she said.
Powell finally got the medicines, but not before four weeks of stress trying to convince Rite Aid that her insurance had approved what her daughter so badly needed.
“I’m very frustrated because this is my daughter’s life.”
Rite Aid’s corporate headquarters in Pennsylvania responded with this statement when 10 On Your Side alerted them of the problems in Portsmouth and Gloucester.
The pharmacy at these locations are temporarily operating on adjusted hours due to staffing issues. The retail portion of the stores remain open for regular hours, and store associates are assisting customers by directing them to an alternative Rite Aid to receive their prescriptions when the pharmacy is closed. We are taking necessary steps to serve our customers and look forward to resuming regular hours at the pharmacy as soon as we can.
If anyone has a prescription for what ails the pharmacy industry it’s likely Keith Hodges. He’s a pharmacist for Rite Aid; he owned the independent Gloucester Pharmacy for several years before it closed, and he’s been a Republican Delegate in the 98th District since 2012.
He spoke with 10 On Your Side not representing Rite Aid, but only as a pharmacist and lawmaker.
Hodges emphasizes the problems are on a national level. He says low reimbursements are a major factor – that’s the amount the pharmacy gets paid through middle-man Pharmacy Benefit Managers when you fill your prescription.
Hodges also cites staffing challenges, burnout, and problems with the supply chain, especially with antibiotics, the diabetes medicine Ozempic, and the ADHD drug Adderall.
The whole system is in need of a remedy, and it can’t come a moment too soon for Kelly Powell and her daughter.
“If she doesn’t have this medication, she could potentially have a seizure that would be life-threatening to her,” she said. “It could paralyze her, it could leave her non-responsive. That’s not a chance that I’m willing to take.”
Check WAVY.com for the latest updates.