Originally created 07/01/03

Facility fills last medicine



Dorothy Priester, 72, hoists a plastic caddy full of pill bottles and manages a little humor.

Mrs. Priester, who has 10 prescriptions for everything from high blood pressure to arthritis to gout, jokes, "I'm a regular walking drugstore."

But she might not be for long.

She is one of about 8,000 patients of the outpatient pharmacy at Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics who will have to find another way to get their medications after the pharmacy closes today. MCG Health Inc. officials who oversee the pharmacy said it had to close, in part because of a $4.2 million cut in Medicaid funding to hospitals. Medicaid officials, however, have said there were no cuts to hospitals, unlike other providers who took a 10 percent hit.

Pharmacy patients can call to get appointments with counselors to try to qualify for discount programs through the drug manufacturers. But Mrs. Priester said the number hasn't done her much good.

"You can't ever get through," she said. "It's busy. It's busy. It's busy."

There were some problems earlier but the capacity has since been expanded and is handling 300 calls a day, said Patricia Sodomka, the chief operating officer for MCG Health Inc. Out of 2,700 calls, 918 people have gotten appointments or have already been seen, and officials expect the volume to continue for the near future, Ms. Sodomka said. About 64 percent of the people should qualify, according to MCG Health's figures.

"These are the people most in need who are qualifying," she said.

As for Mrs. Priester, she already has a second tray full of drugs that she has set off to the side on a shelf.

"These are the ones I'm going to leave off, because I can't afford 'em," she said. But sitting in that basket is a cholesterol-lowering drug and a medication for her gout - the last time she stopped taking it, her right leg swelled within two days.

Although she and her husband get some money from Social Security, they apparently make a little too much to qualify for other programs, Mrs. Priester said. And with at least 23 prescriptions for herself, her husband, and a grandson, Mrs. Priester is looking at sacrifice.

"I would rather I do without," she said.

PRESCRIPTION AID

MCG Health Inc. officials are asking patients of its outpatient pharmacy to make an appointment to apply for drug manufacturer discount programs. Call 721-8496.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tomc@augustachronicle.com.



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