Monday, July 16 , 2018, 7:59 pm | Fair 72º


Local News

South Coast Short On 24-Hour Pharmacies

From Goleta to Carpinteria, patients are out of luck getting prescriptions after 10 p.m.; pharmacists say demand doesn't justify longer hours

It’s midnight, and your 6-year-old son is coughing so much he can’t sleep, so neither can you.

After an extra long day at the office, dinner and homework, you ran short on time to retrieve the refill of the prescription cough medicine your son’s pediatrician called in.

And the pharmacy has been closed since 10 p.m.

In fact, there isn’t a single chain or local pharmacy from Goleta to Carpinteria open after 10 p.m. Most of the area’s pharmacies close from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays. Want 24-hour access to prescription medicine? You’ll have to drive to Ventura or Santa Maria, each of which has at least one pharmacy open 24/7.

Is there enough demand for overnight prescription medicine to justify an all-night pharmacy?

Dr. Paul Aijian, a Santa Barbara physician who specializes in geriatric and internal medicine, said he and his patients certainly would patronize a pharmacy that offered longer hours.

“Many times over the years on night and weekend call, I have gotten calls from patients who need a medicine called in for them, but they called after all the local pharmacies have closed,” Aijian said. “Most of the pharmacies have similar hours of closing, and it seems like over the years, the night and weekend hours have gotten ever shorter.”

On the South Coast, the two pharmacies open the latest are both in Goleta: the CVS Pharmacy at 189 S. Turnpike Road in the Vons shopping center, and the Walgreens drug store at 5900 Calle Real. Both have pharmacies that remain open until 10 p.m. Monday through Friday.

In addition to the CVS and Walgreens pharmacies being open until 10 p.m. weekdays, the Rite-Aid pharmacy in the Fairview Shopping Center opens for business at 6 a.m. seven days a week, according to the Rite-Aid Web site.

Robert Elfinger, Illinois-based spokesman for Walgreens, said the Calle Real Walgreens simply doesn’t have enough demand for prescriptions to warrant it staying open 24 hours. As a result, Walgreens officials believe that Santa Barbara or Goleta “would not be a good place to have a 24-hour store,” he said.

Higher-volume pharmacies, such the next closest Walgreens, in Onxard, see more requests, Elfinger said, and thus have pharmacy staff working overnight to fill prescription requests from the prior day.

CVS Caremark, based in Woonsocket, R.I., purchased Longs Drugs Stores in August 2008. Some of the local stores still operate as Longs; others are now known as CVS facilities.

Calls to the CVS toll-free general information line are routed back to local stores based on the caller’s area code and prefix; the store to which a Noozhawk reporter was referred is the one at 3939 State St., in the Five Points Shopping Center. That facility, still operated as a Longs, is open 24 hours a day, but its pharmacy closes at 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 6 p.m. on weekends.

Mike DeAngelis, CVS/pharmacy director of public relations, said the company continues “to monitor the market.”

“As in any of our markets, we expand hours when we determine that there is enough of a customer base to support a 24-hour pharmacy,” he said.
Aijian said he has tried to get the local owner of a drug store to expand operating hours to accommodate late-night requests for medicine. “I suggested to the owner of Federal Drug that he might have a niche” if, as a locally owned pharmacy, he offered later hours, Aijian said. He suggested that the owner offer late-night service as a benefit to regular customers, and “offer a prescription refill for a fee, which would make it worth his while to drive down there and fill the prescription.”

At the Federal Drug Company, 3327 State St., an employee said there’s simply not enough demand for prescriptions to warrant the business offering later hours.

Aijian said he understands that pharmacists and employees don’t want to work into the evening hours — or overnight — on the chance that a few patients will need medicine. “The problem is that no one wants to be up late, especially when the rare prescription is not that profitable,’’ he said.

A state shortage of available pharmacists contributes to the South Coast’s lack of late-night drug stores, one local pharmacist said.

Allan Cohen, director of pharmacy services for Cottage Health System, said Santa Barbara and Goleta pharmacies have a difficult time getting pharmacists to staff their facilities during regular hours, “let alone the night shift,” but agreed that the region could use a 24-hour pharmacy.

Cohen has heard of longtime area pharmacists who are seeking to retire being urged by their employers to keep working simply because there’s no one available to replace them, Cohen said.

As a member of a statewide task force studying the number of professionals working in the health care field, Cohen has learned that California has the lowest number of pharmacists per 100,000 people of any state in the nation.

The task force, the Coalition on Shortages of Allied Health Professionals, is working under the direction of the California Hospital Association, he said.

At the heart of the issue, Cohen said, is encouraging more pharmacists to come to the Central Coast. Members of the task force, who will present their findings to the governor, have found that shortages in educational facilities and sites at which new graduates can train are factors that lead to the overall lack of pharmacists.

Patients being treated for an injury or illness in the facilities’ emergency departments have access to prescriptions via the pharmacies at the Goleta, Santa Barbara and Solvang hospitals operated by Cottage Health System. The hospitals will not, however, fill prescriptions for patients not seen by emergency room physicians, Cohen said. “By law, we cannot fill nonpatient prescriptions,” he said.

Sansum Clinic, another major provider of health care for Santa Barbara County residents, operates two pharmacies, one at its Hitchcock Way site, and the other at its main clinic, 215 Pesetas Lane, said Paul Jaconette, Sansum’s chief administrative officer. The company leases its pharmacy facility at 317 W. Pueblo St. to another pharmacist, he added.

Sansum’s two pharmacies are nonprofit operations and not retail facilities such as Rite-Aid, Walgreens or CVS, Jaconette said. “As a nonprofit, we buy at nonprofit rates,” he said.

Jaconette said he hasn’t heard from Sansum physicians that the lack of a 24-hour pharmacy hinders patient care. “For some patients, yes, I imagine there might be a need,” he said, “but typically, things can wait until the next morning.’’

The executive director of Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, which operates medical centers on the Eastside, Westside and in Isla Vista, as well as a dental clinic, said her medical staff members haven’t reported any difficulties with patients getting prescriptions filled at local pharmacies.

“Most of our patients are below the poverty level, and have MediCal or other governmental coverage for their meds,” Cynder Sinclair said. “They are very familiar with which pharmacies accept their coverages and what the hours are.”

Noozhawk staff writer Laurie Jervis can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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