New care center administrators end long-standing business relationship with Vashon Pharmacy

Vashon Community Care is now fully affiliated with Transforming Age, and among the changes the new agency has made is to end its business relationship with Vashon Pharmacy. Instead, it will use a pharmacy that supplies only long-term care facilities.

Care center officials say the change is not intended to be disrespectful to the island pharmacy, but rather an important step in improving patient care and making the center sustainable. At the Vashon Pharmacy, however, the owner says he is disappointed he was not given a chance to meet the needs of Transforming Age and show officials there what services the island pharmacy is capable of, particularly after its recent technology upgrades.

At the care facility last week, Corporate Health Services Director Jim Bennett explained the move, noting that one of the largest factors driving the decision is that the pharmacy Transforming Age is electing to work with — which serves the agency’s other facilities in the area — can provide medications delivered intravenously, and the Vashon Pharmacy cannot.

Over the years, VCC has had to turn potential residents away if they needed IV therapy, Bennett said, and being able to accept those patients is important to the agency’s financial health. Doing so benefits islanders’ who want to be cared for at VCC and need IV services.

“I want people who live on the island to have a place to go,” Bennett said.

Overall, he believes about 20 percent of VCC’s residents need IV therapy over the course of a year.

Working with multiple pharmacies to provide different services — in an a la carte arrangement — is not cost effective, he added.

Bennett added that when care center staff talk with discharge planners at hospitals and say they cannot provide a service, discharge planners stop calling — something he wants to avoid at VCC in the future.

He stressed that Trans-forming Age does not want to burn bridges on Vashon — and noted VCC’s history of needing $500,000 worth of financial support every year.

“There are a lot of moving parts that need to be changed,” he said about VCC becoming sustainable.

CEO of Transforming Age Torsten Hirche also recently addressed the pharmacy matter, saying that the long-term care pharmacy has access to residents’ medical records. Additionally, he said having all of Transforming Age’s residents be part of the same system is helpful in filling staffing needs; a standardized system helps if the company moves employees from one facility to another.

At the Vashon Pharmacy, owner Tyler Young shared a different perspective.

“I am not angry that they are doing this, but the way they did it was disappointing,” he said recently.

Young said that last December, he shared with Bennett that the pharmacy was in the midst of upgrading its technology, including software, which would allow the business to improve its services. Young said he expected that he and Bennett would continue that conversation after Transforming Age had some time to settle in at VCC and the busy Christmas season had passed at the pharmacy. Instead, he said, Bennett called him in the middle of January to say that Transforming Age was electing to go in a different direction with its pharmacy services.

Young agrees that it would be cost prohibitive for the Vashon Pharmacy to provide IV medications, but he said it is “pretty frustrating” for Transforming Age not to make its needs known and for Young to be able to respond to those needs.

“It was disappointing that we were not given a chance to show them what we are capable of providing and accommodating the needs of the new administration,” he said.

He added that he did provide Bennett with information on how Vashon Pharmacy could increase its services, including integrating care center and pharmacy computer systems, improving the timeliness of refills and delivering medications to the facility. But Bennett indicated the decision was final.

Young, who said the pharmacy has served the care center for many years, noted that providing medications for the skilled nursing facility is a labor intensive process, as the medications must be specially packaged. The pharmacy has not charged for that labor, he said.

Looking ahead, Young said he does not know what effect the change in business will have on the pharmacy, but there may be some reductions in staff hours because of it.

Residents in the assisted living quarters have some choice in their pharmacy, but when this change takes effect, they will be charged an administrative fee for medications provided by a pharmacy other than the one VCC will soon be working with.

Young said he has heard this will be more than $100 per month, making it cost prohibitive for residents to keep their business on the island.

Young added that he is aware Transforming Age wants islanders to continue supporting the center financially, and he questioned this decision from that standpoint.

“One of the few ways for them to give back to the community is to keep their pharmacy business local,” he said.

Soon, he said, the pharmacy will send out letters, thanking people for their business and ensuring them the pharmacy will be of service in any way it can, including when emergency medications are needed.

Both Young and Transforming Age officials say they are operating in the best interests of the residents.

“The big north star here is the residents that we serve and doing the best we can for the people on Vashon,” Hirche said.

Young shared a similar thought.

“The end goal is that the residents get the best care they possible can. It was disappointing not be given to a chance to do that.”

The change in pharmacy services is slated to begin March 20.

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