More than 5,000 prescriptions normally filled by Cook County Health’s mail-order pharmacy were delayed in July, following upheaval at the U.S. Postal Service.
The pharmacy normally fills more than 20,000 prescriptions each month, said Cook County Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Claudia Fegan. In July, 23% of those prescriptions were delayed, she said. That was up from less than 1% delayed in March. Delays were up in April and May as well, and reached 18% in June.
In some ZIP codes, about half of the system’s mail-order prescriptions in July were delayed, Fegan said. Some of the ZIP codes most affected by the delays are those that include the South Side neighborhoods of Auburn Gresham, Roseland, Pullman and South Shore.
“This is yet another example of the impact that policy changes have on our vulnerable populations,” Fegan said at a news conference Monday. “Our patients deserve high-quality care and continuity of care. They deserve to be able to receive their medication and not have to worry about how they’ll get to the pharmacy during a pandemic to get their medications.”
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy implemented a series of policy changes that slowed down and delayed the mail, including canceling overtime and limiting mail transportation runs, according to the American Postal Workers Union. Those changes were met with criticism from Democrats who saw them as an attempt to make it more difficult for people to vote by mail in the November election.
DeJoy said in a statement last week that he would hold off on certain changes until after the November election “to avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail.” The U.S. House of Representatives approved a measure to send $25 billion in additional funds to the Postal Service but that measure is not expected to be taken up in the Senate.
Cook County Health leaders said Monday they continue to hear complaints about delayed medications from patients.
“This has severely impacted seniors and other individuals who have high risk of exposure to COVID-19 and depend on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver their mail-order prescriptions on time,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Patricia Moore, a patient at Cook County Health who spoke at the news conference, said she had never had a problem getting her mail-order prescriptions delivered on time before now. But she recently ran low on her medication for high blood pressure when it didn’t arrive on time. She ended up making a trip to Provident Hospital to pick it up. When she again ran low, she stood in line at her local post office for an hour-and-a-half to try to pick it up, only to be told that she’d have to come back another time.
When she finally received her medication, she was down to her last pill, she said.
“Finally, I got my medication, but I hope and pray in the future, I don’t have to go through all these changes again,” Moore said.
Representatives of other area health systems, including Sinai Health System, University of Chicago Medicine and Amita Health said they had not recently seen delays in mail-order prescriptions sent to patients. Some health systems’ pharmacies use the Postal Service, while others use FedEx or UPS.
Advocate Aurora Health said in a statement that it’s working ahead of expected demand whenever possible to minimize the effects of any mail delays on patients.
Cook County Health has been using services other than the post office to resend medications when they’re urgently needed, officials said.
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