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Pharmaceutical system 'really messed up,' county told

Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON

Cook County doctors, patients and commissioners ripped what they said is a mismanaged public health care system, throwing pointed comments at the delay-plagued pharmaceutical program.

In a public hearing Tuesday, the crowd spent hours railing about problems, miscommunication and county-imposed restrictions that have hampered delivery of care.

"Our pharmacy system is badly broken -- as badly as I've seen it," said Dr. David Goldberg, who's spent 22 years with the county.

While Commissioner Roberto Maldonado harped on "bureaucrats" who have mismanaged operations and asked them not "to give us their excuses," some criticism came at commissioners, who have cut all county budgets, scaling back millions of dollars, and limiting pharmacy salaries to a non-competitive level. The board also limited hiring and overtime countywide.

Bureau of Health administrator Dr. Daniel Winship said that while 2.9 million prescriptions were filled last year, the county is on pace to fill 3.8 million this year.

In addition to 24 vacant pharmacy positions at StrogerHospital and neighboring Fantus Clinic, Winship said, both places have vacant pharmacy director positions.

Frustrated patients

A mail-order refill program, started this year, has been snagged with errors, however, it is now serving about 2,400 refill orders.

But patients said they are frustrated by mail-order system errors, causing them to come in and wait up to four hours only to learn their prescription isn't ready yet and they have to come back, with seniors and the handicapped often waiting longer than others.

"I don't know what you guys were thinking when you set all this up," said Annette Pakula, of Chicago, "but it's really messed up."

Winship said he's pushing for a series of improvements, including adding a higher-paid pharmacy staff and leaning more on computers. That, he said, could ease many problems.



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