New Brunswick

'Don't come in if you're sick': NB Pharmacists try to manage COVID-19 rush

New Brunswick pharmacists say they're trying to manage a surge in requests for prescription refills and other demands from patients who can't get through to Telecare or see their family doctors.

Customers complain 30-day limit on refills triples their drug costs.

Pharmacists are pleading with the public – that anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 – please stay away. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

New Brunswick pharmacists say they're trying to manage a surge in requests for prescription refills and other demands from patients who can't get through to Telecare or see their family doctors.

They say traffic into their drugstores has as much as tripled and people are coming in sick, coughing and asking about fevers.

They're pleading with the public – that anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 – please stay away.

At the Jean Coutu pharmacy on Union Street in Fredericton, staff have literally walled themselves in.

They've used plastic sheeting to build a droplet barrier to protect themselves from potentially infectious customers.

That's where pharmacist Greg MacKay works.

He says he's hoping the improvised shield will help his staff stay healthy, especially when there's such a flood of need.

At the Jean Coutu pharmacy on Union Street in Fredericton, staff have literally walled themselves in. (Jean Coutu)

"If people thought they had a problem with toilet paper and other supplies, then they start thinking about other things they need to keep on hand, like their important medication," said MacKay.

"So, they say, okay, that's the next thing on my list."

Crippling co-pays

However, people who want to stock up, can't.

On Tuesday, the New Brunswick College of Pharmacists directed all refills to be capped at a 30-day amount.

The College said this would help to ensure a stable supply for everyone "as this situation evolves."

But it also means those who pay fees on refills could see their costs triple, if this measure stays in place for a significant length of time.

80-year-old Fredericton resident Herb Walsh says that would be a hit on his fixed income.

80-year-old Fredericton resident Herb Walsh says 30 day limits on refills will jack up his out-of-pocket costs from $66 to $198 for the same amount of medicine. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

Since he's had his heart valve replaced, he has six medications, for which he co-pays 11 dollars per refill.

Normally, those refills last 90 days.

Now he says, he'll be charged every 30 days and that will jack up his out-of-pocket costs from $66 to $198 for the same amount of medicine.

Are more visits good?

Walsh also questions the wisdom of any policy that could cause people to go to the store more often, when New Brunswick has declared a state of emergency and public health is begging people to stay home.

In response to all the complaints, the New Brunswick Pharmacists' Association issued a statement Thursday evening on behalf of Interim Executive Director Janet MacDonnell.

"We hear you. We recognize your concerns," she said in the message.

MacDonnell says the policy may result in more visits to the pharmacy but points to the options to mitigate risk. She says many stores now offer free delivery, operate drive-thrus, or they've put up plexiglass barriers.

She also addressed the frustration with the extra costs.

Janet MacDonnell, the interim executive director of the New Brunswick Pharmacists Association says the 30 day limit is a temporary measure and the organization is working with government to alleviate any hardship it causes. (Stephen MacGillivray Photography)

"We recognize this directive means some patients will pay more in dispensing fees and co-pays."

"Please keep in mind that this is a temporary change in dispensing practice, and we are working as an association on both a provincial and federal level to alleviate the burden this may cause some patients."

When the premier was asked about the policy on the CBC's political panel, Blaine Higgs said the all-party committee on COVID-19 would take another look at the issue at its Friday meeting.

"Our goal here is not to have people impacted financially in a negative way because of this," said Higgs.

"We also do not want to have manufacturers, suppliers, or retailers taking advantage of a supply and demand situation."

"We expect retailers of all kinds … to not use this as a market to raise prices."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Cave is a CBC reporter based in Saint John, New Brunswick.

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