Without pharmacist, Health Center looks for Rx options

Recent staffing changes at the College’s Health Center, including the departure of two part-time staff members who chose to take advantage of the early retirement program, have led to changes in several services previously offered to students.

Most notably, the staff of the Health Center no longer includes a pharmacist; the Health Center is also looking to fill a recently vacated therapist position.

With the departure of the lone campus pharmacist, the College is no longer able to fill prescriptions for students. As regulated by the Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy (MBP), health clinics in the state of Massachusetts must have a licensed pharmacist on staff in order to provide prescription medications to patients.

However, the departure of Michael Pinsonneault, the College’s sole pharmacist for more than 30 years, has left the Health Center with no one to fill the position. While the clinic can still dispense over-the-counter medications like Ibuprofen and cough syrup, it can only prescribe medications – like oral contraceptives – not fill them.

The College has not yet solicited a new pharmacist to fill the vacant post, as the position itself is still under review.
Ruth Harrison, Director of Health Services, explained that she and her staff have been working throughout the summer on solutions to the vacancy.

“Our main goal is to maintain access [to prescription medications] for students,” she said. “We have looked at this from many angles, and we’re trying to find the best solution.”

For now, Rite Aid’s pharmacy on Route Two is providing all prescription medications to students at the College. Staff members at the Health Center have been asking students with their own means of transportation to go to Rite Aid themselves to fill their prescriptions. Rite Aid has also been delivering medications to the Health Center on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. In certain situations, staff members have driven to Rite Aid to pick up medications needed more immediately.

“Rite Aid has been wonderful,” Harrison said. “We will be faxing in prescriptions to them, and we can call credit cards in for co-pays. However, we need to figure out a way to get [prescription medications] to students sooner.”
Pinsonneault’s retirement came at an inopportune time, as Hart’s on Spring Street discontinued its pharmaceutical component last spring. “If Hart’s hadn’t closed, this wouldn’t have been such an issue,” Harrison said.

The major concern for staff members is that they can no longer fill prescriptions for oral contraceptives, one of the most vital medications that the Health Center previously provided. Harrison has been researching alternate means of distributing these medications, though nothing conclusive has been found as of yet.

Although the Health Center has also been unable to provide Plan B since Pinsonneault’s departure, a generic Plan B medication will be available within two or three weeks, according to Harrison. The generic brand will be considerably less expensive than the prescription brand dispensed in the past.

The Health Center will still be able to administer prescription medications under certain emergency conditions. Nurse Practitioner Debbie Flynn is licensed to provide medication for asthma and burns and in other situations when prescription medications are needed in emergencies.

Another part-time nurse practitioner has been hired to accommodate the increased traffic at the Health Center. The new employee will start working at the end of October and will bring a much-appreciated helping hand, according to Harrison.

The early retirement of part-time Staff Therapist Fran Lippmann, an employee of the College for more than 20 years, has also left the Health Center in a state of flux. That position, however, was deemed essential by the College, and the search for a replacement was underway as of this summer.

The position description on the College’s Human Resources website says that candidates “must have demonstrated experience in working with individuals from historically underrepresented groups and counseling on issues of diversity.” This consideration addresses the concerns of a group of students who wrote a petition last year for the installment of a multicultural counselor. Health Center staff members have just begun reading applications, but “we have to broaden the search,” Harrison said.

Additionally, although there are three interns currently assisting the Psych Services staff, Harrison hopes that the College will approve another half-time staff member.
Despite several upheavals, Harrison is keeping a level head about the upcoming year. “Everything is going to take a little more time,” she said, “but we will make it all work.”