Newspaper article

When Natural Disaster Strikes, Keeping Psychiatric Meds Available Is Essential

Newspaper article

When Natural Disaster Strikes, Keeping Psychiatric Meds Available Is Essential

Article excerpt

When a natural disaster strikes, the public quickly becomes aware that people with serious physical ailments like diabetes or kidney disease need access to the medications or treatments that keep them alive. But little gets reported about another urgent medical concern: People with serious mental illnesses need access to their psychiatric medications.

Last week, I talked to Mark Peterson, RPh, the Minnesota-based chief commercial officer of Genoa, a company that provides pharmacy and telepsychiatry services to clients nationwide with behavioral health and substance-use disorders. When weather forecasters predicted that hurricanes Harvey and Irma were heading in the direction of Texas and Florida, Genoa staff had their emergency-management procedures put to the test: They scrambled to make sure that all of their clients in the direct path of the storms, which included mental health clinics, group homes and other residential facilities, had access to their psychiatric medications.

The situation called for serious planning and flexibility on the part of Genoa pharmacists and other staff members.

"For a person with serious mental illness, even having a short interruption in your medication supply can be very dangerous," Peterson told me. "For some of our clients, having access to their medications is a life-or-death situation. Our team went out of the way to make sure that they got what they needed."

MinnPost: Why is it important to make sure that psychiatric medications are available for your clients during natural disasters?

Mark Peterson: For folks like you and me, if we know there is a storm coming or if something is going to interfere with our ability to take our medication, we'll be prepared. We'll have transportation. We'll make calls. We'll think about what we need to do to get it done. But if you are somebody with severe mental illness, your ability to even just find the transportation to leave home and get what you need might be more difficult.

We try to be proactive. If we can anticipate some kind of storm or other natural disaster, or if something is going to happen that might interfere with an individual's ability to get their care, we are going to be as proactive as possible about it. We do everything we can to make sure our clients don't miss a dose.

MinnPost: What kinds of preparations can you make before a natural disaster strikes?

Mark Peterson: If we know there is a hurricane coming, we might have a few days or even a week's warning where we can prepare. We will do a review of our records to see who over the next few weeks is going to be running out of mediations and might be due for a refill. We will actually reach out to those individuals to plan where they are going to be during the incident. As long as it is safe we will get them a supply of their medications. We will try to get them stocked up for the length of the incident.

MinnPost: When your pharmacies are closed due to a natural disaster, how do you get psychiatric meds out to clients?

Mark Peterson: During the event, we continue to stay connected to our clients and their medical providers and get the medications out as our clients need them. Some of the places where we have to spend extra time and attention on are the group homes. Oftentimes a group home may only have limited supervision -- maybe just one person on staff with several clients. They don't have the ability to pack up the group home and take everybody out to pick up just one mediation. It is important for our staff to get to the group homes where our clients are. That way clients can wait in place and make sure they get their medications from us.

MinnPost: You said that in some cases, having access to psychiatric medications can be a life-or-death situation. What mental illnesses are most dependent on regular dosing?

Mark Peterson: For some individuals, even a very brief gap in treatment can lead to re-hospitalization. …

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