Column: Senior citizens rely on long-term-care pharmacies

DATE: July 10, 2020

The Columbus Dispatch

By Lance Miller – July 10, 2020

Despite a recent slowdown in virus transmission and deaths, the COVID-19 pandemic is still far from over. That is troublesome news for the 1.3 million Americans living in nursing homes, which have borne the brunt of this national health emergency.

Since the crisis began, more than 40% of all coronavirus-related deaths have occurred in long-term care facilities. With a patient population battling multiple chronic conditions and serious injuries — before the COVID-19 crisis even began — the stakes are high for our country’s most vulnerable seniors.

While Congress and the Trump administration have rightly worked to support nursing homes and assisted living facilities, they also have, so far, failed to provide emergency relief to long-term care pharmacies — which work 24/7/365 to provide elderly residents with the medication they need. Since the start of this pandemic, LTC pharmacies have quickly ramped up operations and invested in stringent safety procedures, but without emergency relief, these costly measures will eventually overwhelm our small businesses and force many of us to close our doors permanently. This cannot be allowed to happen.

LTC pharmacies provide much more specialized care than traditional retail pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens. In addition to delivering prescription medicines to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities every day, we also mix and deliver specialized injections and infusions that are administered intravenously. Our staff members are trained to review patient charts and work closely with each patient’s clinical care team to decide the most appropriate drugs — all while ensuring there are no allergic reactions or dangerous interactions.

Unlike retail pharmacies, LTC pharmacies dispense far more medications per patient (an average of 12 per person), which makes sense considering the precarious health conditions of those we serve.

Interacting so closely with nursing home staff, we are seen as trusted partners and essential for ensuring they can deliver the best possible care.

Unfortunately, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, LTC pharmacies are facing unprecedented strain as we strive to maintain the same level of care while navigating the extra cost of implementing stricter safety protocols. While costs have gone up, we’ve also seen a drop in new admissions as fewer patients are entering LTC facilities. This confluence has led to a massive reduction in revenue at a time when we are spending far more resources on personal protective equipment, employee infection screenings and other preventive and safety measures.

While we are committed to providing the same level of high-quality care patients and facilities expect, it is beginning to affect our ability to remain financially viable for the duration of this crisis and beyond.

In order to continue serving patients in America’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities, long-term-care pharmacies desperately need relief.

The Trump administration can and should provide emergency funding to LTC pharmacies through new powers created by the CARES Act. Specifically, the bipartisan law directs the Department of Health and Human Services to set aside some of the allocated $175 billion to support nursing home residents. Though LTC pharmacies are not mentioned by name in the law, we play a critical role in caring for senior citizens and qualify for immediate emergency relief funding.

Not only would this help America’s sickest seniors get the care they need, but it would also help thousands of small businesses in our sector keep our doors open.

Without long-term-care pharmacies, senior citizens in nursing homes and long-term-care facilities will face severe access challenges for getting the medications they desperately need. It’s time for the Trump administration and Congress to take action to protect LTC pharmacies and the patients they serve.

Lance Miller is vice president of operations for PCA Pharmacy in Columbus.

The full article is also available here.

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