I’m having a ridiculous time dealing with my med provider right now. I have had trouble with them in the past, but nothing quite this bad.
The place I go is called Centerstone and I’ve been going there for 8 years. After college I went to the city health department for further treatment for depression and they sent me to Centerstone. I was uninsured and Centerstone is not-for-profit. They have programs for people with no or low income to help them get medication and/or therapy.
When I got my current job in 2013 and got insurance I considered finding another med provider but I was seeing a psychiatrist for med maintenance at Centerstone that I really trusted. Unfortunately (for me), he took another job elsewhere and I saw him for the last time in February of this year.
In February when I scheduled my follow-up med maintenance appointment, I was told they weren’t sure who I would be seeing because they were currently understaffed. I had no issues with that.
In mid April I was in a partial hospitalization program. My meds were adjusted during my time there. My next med appointment at Centerstone had been scheduled for May 7 (a Saturday since their patient load is so high right now).
I saw a nurse practitioner on May 7. She made some med changes because I was experiencing a lot of anxiety. One of the changes was adding Effexor. At then end of the appointment she told me that someone would call me about scheduling my next med appointment. She asked if I would be willing to be seen at one of their other offices (both of which are about 45 minutes from my city). I said of course.
When August 25 came and no one from Centerstone had called, I called to schedule an appointment. I told them I needed a medication maintenance appointment. They told me I’d be seeing a woman….let’s call her Sue (not her real name). The appointment was set up for September 13 at 5.
So I went to the appointment and Sue called me back. As we were walking to her office she asked, “So what brings you in today?” I told her that I need med maintenance since I was last there in May and am on my last refills of meds. Sue said she doesn’t know why I was scheduled with her because she’s a therapist, not a med provider.
I was immediately agitated. Running out of meds is a horrible thing. I don’t need to explain that to anyone who takes medication. Also, I had learned two days before that starting November 1 I’d only be working on an as-needed basis at work instead of being full-time. So I was angry that I’d just paid $35 for an appointment that I didn’t want or need when I’m going to be broke in less than 2 months.
After looking through my account on the computer for a few minutes Sue learned that because I’d been hospitalized, I was not eligible to receive medication unless I saw a therapist first.
Okay, that might have made sense if they’d required me to see a therapist right after my hospitalization. But five months later? It’s not even relevant even more. And why didn’t they let me know that was the rule before I was out of med refills??
I was annoyed but sucked it up and got through the appointment with Sue, who kept interrupting me and trying to finish my sentences, by the way. She also gaped (I’m not exaggerating) and shook her head when she saw the scars on my arm. Anyway, at the end of the appointment Sue told me to have them schedule me for another therapy appointment with her in 4-6 weeks. She told me that they wouldn’t be able to schedule me for a med appointment until someone changed my status to eligible for medication.
When I left I didn’t see anyone at the front desk and figured since it was technically after business hours I’d have to call back another day to schedule appointments.
Two days later, September 15, I called Centerstone and left a message with the medical secretary saying I need refills on my meds since I was scheduled for therapy instead of med maintenance. A few hours Sue called me. I missed the call because I was at work. I have to keep my phone on silent & not use it when I’m working with the kids. Sue left a message that said I couldn’t get refills or a med appointment until I scheduled another appointment with her.
Two business days went by before I called back. I shouldn’t have let it happen, but one of those days I had a horrible migraine and was in bed. The other day was really busy at work and I forgot to do it.
I called on September 20 and scheduled an appointment with Sue for October 13. When I said I needed a med appointment, the scheduling secretary told me she needed to check with someone else before scheduling me because my account was flagged. She put me on hold for a few minutes, then returned and said she’d have to call back. Twenty minutes later she called back and said I would be seeing Dr. Daniel (not his real name) but that he didn’t have anything available until November. I took the first available appointment on November 10. Then I told the secretary I needed to speak to someone about getting refills. She said she would put a note in my account that would prompt someone to call me about medication.
Later that afternoon (fortunately I’d gotten off work early that day and was able to answer my phone) I got a phone call from a guy at Centerstone I’ll call Ed. I told him I needed refills. He said they’ll probably just call in refills but that I’ll have to come in and pick up a paper script for Concerta since it’s a controlled substance. He told me he’d call back either that afternoon or the next morning to let me know when things were ready. I let him know that I can’t answer my phone at work but that leaving a message was fine. This has worked for me in the past and I assumed it would again.
Centerstone calls the next morning (September 21) and I miss it because I’m working with a kid. The voicemail says only, “This is the medical secretary at Centerstone. Our number is ____.” I called back and left a message with the medical secretary explaining that I need refills and that I can’t answer my phone at work so a voicemail with instructions would be helpful.
I told my supervisor that day that I was expecting a very important phone call from my doctor and would need to answer it if the call came. She said it wasn’t a problem, which was a relief.
I called and left another message with the medical secretary on September 22. I didn’t receive a call back on the 22nd or the 23rd.
Yesterday (the 26th) I called and left another message with the medical secretary saying that I was going to start getting physically ill from Effexor withdrawals soon if I didn’t get refills. At 1:10 pm Centerstone called back. It was the medical secretary and she was rude from the beginning. When I answered she asked, “Is this Cordelia?” I said yes and she said, “Look, they’ve called you four times so I need to verify your number.”
Okay, I missed two calls from them because of work, which I’d let them know was probably going to happen. I answered every other call. I don’t know why she insinuated that I had missed 4 calls or something. I gave her my number and told her that I let Ed know last week that I can’t answer the phone at work and that he’d told me someone would leave me a voicemail when it was time for me to pick up my scripts.
“No,” she snapped. “They won’t do anything. They won’t even call in refills until you talk to a nurse.”
“I talked to two people last week about needing refills.” I almost wailed it. I was getting desperate.
“Were either of them nurses?” she said like she was talking to a 4 year old.
“I don’t know. One was a woman who didn’t give her name and the other was a guy named Ed.”
“Fine, they’ll call you right back.” And she hung up.
I was pretty angry at that point. Regardless of my missing two calls, Centerstone is at fault. They have screwed up several times. 1) No one called between May and August to schedule a med maintenance appointment like I was told they would. 2) No one informed me that I had to see a therapist before being allowed to get more medication 3) When I called and asked for a med appointment, they scheduled me for therapy instead and didn’t tell me that. I showed up there thinking I was getting one thing and got something different instead. 4) They put me in the position of running out of medication. Providing medication is their job. They failed at that.
I was also pissed that the medical secretary was so rude to me. I’d missed two calls from them, yes, but I’d also made 4 calls to them that weren’t answered. Also, if I needed to talk to a nurse, why was she was the one who’d called me just then? And why was she the one who’d called me and left a message on the 21st? If she can’t do anything about my refills, what was the point of her calling me?
I kept my phone next to me for the rest of the afternoon. No one called back. I waited until 1:15 pm today and called again. I left a message saying that 24 hours earlier I’d been told someone would call me right back about refills. I said I just wanted to know what I had to do to get more meds, that I’d come to the office and sit in the waiting room until a nurse was available if that was what I had to do.
About an hour later a nurse I’ll call Brooke called. She asked what I was out of and a couple of other questions about my meds. Then she said that the refills couldn’t be called in until they were approved by the provider I will be seeing in the future–Dr Daniel. She told me it might be a few days before he approved them.
This is a screwed up situation for many reasons. I didn’t do anything wrong and shouldn’t have to go through the emotional and physical discomfort that comes with not having medication. The only reason I haven’t gotten completely sick from Effexor withdrawals is that since I started taking it 4 months ago I have saved some extra pills from days when I had migraines and was throwing up too much to take medication or the occasional day that I’ve forgotten my meds. Also when I had that therapy appointment instead of the med appointment, I went ahead and started only taking Effexor every other day so it would last longer.
But I shouldn’t have to do stuff like that. I should be able to get my damn medicine on time, unless I do something to prevent that like cancelling appointments and not rescheduling soon enough. I got my last refill of Effexor on August 25. If I hadn’t started alternating days I would’ve run out on Saturday. I have quit Effexor cold turkey before (when I was younger and didn’t know anything about med compliance) and within 5 days I was throwing up, trembling, getting brain zaps, and having trouble walking straight. I was also crying hysterically part of the time and ended up in the emergency room because I was suicidal. I am terrified of going through that again.
It’s also kind of nuts that I had med adjustments in May (including adding Effexor, which I was somewhat apprehensive about) and six months will have passed before I see a doctor again. What if I were experiencing side effects that weren’t emergency room level but needed attention earlier than 6 months later? Does this happen with physical health issues as well or are healthcare professionals more lackadaisical about mental health?
It blows my mind that this literally could be a matter of life and death and Centerstone has no sense of urgency about it. If I’d taken my meds every day I’d have run out three days ago and be sick/suicidal in a couple of days. If I had schizophrenia and ran out of meds I might experience psychosis. The symptoms of abrupt medication discontinuation can be life-threatening and that is not an exaggeration.
Also, why has it been my responsibility to fix this? It was Centerstone’s oversight in the first place. They are serving clients who have a hard enough time just making and showing up to appointments. Why make it harder for us by making us jump through hoops to get the meds we need to survive? Because of their lack of communication I have had to spend $35 I wasn’t counting on spending, call them repeatedly, deal with anxiety over running out of medication, and skip Effexor half of the days over the past 2 weeks. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be taken; it’s bad for my mental health.
I know I am not the only person who has gone through this sort of thing at Centerstone. I’ve talked with other patients in the waiting room and (tbh) eavesdropped on people’s conversations. It seems to be pretty common for med providers to give people less refills than they need until their next appointment (for instance, they get 3 refills but there isn’t an available appointment for 4 or 5 months). And we’ve all figured out that when you call for refills you have to tell the nurse you only have about 5 days left. If you say you have more than that, they’ll tell you to call back in a few days. But if you wait until you really do only have 5 days left, you’re going to run out because they take so long to get things done.
I realize that they are not-for-profit and they are currently overbooked and understaffed. But there HAS to be a better way. There has to be another way of handling and prioritizing things that prevents people from being left hanging without medication they need to function.