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THREATS TO STAFF AT PHARMACY SCARE COMES AFTER COUNTY CUTS FOR ANTI-PSYCHOSIS DRUGS.

Byline: Kathleen Sweeney Staff Writer

NEWHALL - A pharmacy near the county's mental health clinic in Newhall has been receiving bomb threats since the county quit paying a share of patients' anti-psychotic and anti-depressant medications earlier this month.

Threats of suicide and robbery as well as personal attacks on some of the 35 employees at the Valencia Pharmacy have forced the staff to call security at least three times a week to help them handle unruly patients who have been told the county will no longer pay for their medication.

``When they have been coming here for 28 years to pick up prescriptions and now the bill is $780, there is a little anger involved,'' said a pharmacist, who asked that his name not be used out of fear for his safety. ``We are spending billions on anti-terrorism, we are going to have that in our own back yard with this.''

The Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health was forced to cut the amount it contributes to medications for Medi-Cal patients because it is $14 million over budget, said Roderick Shaner, the department's medical director. Until these cuts, the county paid the bill for any patient who needed medication that wasn't covered by the state agency.

``We can no longer afford to do that,'' Shaner said. ``It's very understandable people are going to be very upset. If we don't (cut), we won't have enough.''

Since March 1, the cuts started affecting about 10 percent of the patients who seek medication at the pharmacy near the county's mental health clinic on Peachland Avenue, the pharmacist said. Since 1995, the number of patients treated at the clinic has increased from 250 to 850.

Carlene Rechenmacher, manager of the Newhall clinic, said patients are confused because officials had little time to explain the changes that were made.

``Certain decisions have to be made because the prices of medications are going up, up, up,'' she said.

But Rechenmacher stresses that most patients will not be affected by the cuts, and those who are must understand they eventually will receive their medications, though it might take a few days or a week.

Under the Medi-Cal policy, Rechenmacher said, some patients will be forced to pay a portion of the bill each month, which could run patients $250 to $1,200 a month.

These patients also are only allowed to have medications that are on Medi-Cal's list, which state officials contend covers the most up-to-date drugs. The system covers a maximum of six prescriptions per month.

Even if the medication is covered, the pharmacist said at best it will take three to five days for Medi-Cal to approve the prescription, leaving the patients without their medications. Of those requests, about 70 percent are approved.

``We preach to these patients to take the medication and to have control,'' the pharmacist said. ``Then, they bounce downstairs and we say the county won't pay for you to have them.''

Michael Marchello, a Medi-Cal spokesman, said prescriptions are generally approved and the state does cover the newest anti-psychotic and anti-depressant medications.

``They are handled as fast as humanly possible when they come in,'' he said. ``We don't let them sit for long.''

So far, no changes have been made in care for indigent patients, Shaner said. The county contracts with 80 different pharmacies and agrees to pay for all the drugs a patient needs to live a functional life.

While the county is concerned about saving money, the pharmacist said it will spend the same amount on treating these patients in the hospital or in jail if they don't receive their medications.

``These patients are very ill,'' the pharmacist said. ``They are without medication. They will end up in the hospital and jail.''

At Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar, which treats severely mentally ill patients, police escorted 200 patients throughout Los Angeles County, including Santa Clarita, to the facility in January and 243 last month - an average of more than eight people a day.

Carolyn Rhee, the hospital's chief operating officer, said Olive View treats patients who are a danger to themselves, to others or are gravely disabled.

Once they arrive at Olive View, they are evaluated, put back on medication and treated for up to 10 days, Rhee said. Regardless of the patients' financial situation or insurance, the county will treat them.

The county is pushing for changes in the clinics and the way they assign plans to patients, or prescribe them different medications that will be covered under the Medi-Cal plan.

Rechenmacher said the county is working hard to determine which medications patients need, and those they don't, and so far, no patients have been denied medications.

While the county works out the kinks in this new system, employees at Valencia Pharmacy are dealing with the daily threats, and the pharmacist said he has even received threats at home.

``They are quite worried about their safety and it's not the patients' fault,'' the pharmacist said. ``They really do need these medications. This isn't a housewife who is depressed. These are people who are pretty sick.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 24, 2002
Words:848
Previous Article:EDITORIAL LAUSD WINDFALL.
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