Students experience prescription delivery delays, frustration

Above, a package container in the Vassar Mailroom. There is currently no system in place to prioritize prescription medications during mail processing. Courtesy of Renee Desantis.

As Vassar students learn to navigate life in the campus “bubble,” they have grown increasingly reliant on delivery services to obtain certain necessities or goods that are not readily available on the College’s grounds. For many students, these delivery services play a critical role in how they acquire medication. However, over the past couple of weeks, several students have voiced qualms about their personal experiences with medication delivery.

The two pharmacies that are available for delivery services are the Rite Aid on 238 Hooker Avenue and the CVS located at 722 Dutchess Turnpike. Prior to this semester, Rite Aid and CVS delivered exclusively prescription medication to campus. But in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the pharmaceutical providers agreed to deliver some over-the-counter medications and controlled substances.

Students in need of medication can have their health care provider send out the prescription to either Rite Aid or CVS. The students can then contact the appropriate pharmacy with their specific delivery instructions. They can opt for a no-contact direct delivery, in which they meet the delivery driver at a particular location and specified time, or the students can choose the mail order pharmacy option, which has the medication delivered straight to the Vassar Mailroom.

Many of the students who opted for the mail order pharmacy option have had difficulty receiving their medication on time.

After her medication delivery was a week late, Emilie Rose Parker ’22 decided to contact the Mailroom. She was told by the Mailroom staff that there was nothing under her name and was then directed to Central Receiving personnel, who informed her that her prescription had been delivered two weeks prior to her having contacted them. At this point, Parker decided to contact Baldwin Health Services to arrange an appointment to retrieve a new prescription. Shortly after she made her appointment, she received a new email in her inbox from the Mailroom saying that they had found her prescription after having lost it.

“I was extremely stressed,” Parker shared through email. “My prescription was overdue and the [M]ailroom was not helpful when I asked about it, giving me multiple messages and not being clear.”

Manager of the Mailroom and Copy Center Renee DeSantis detailed in an email how the United States Postal System (USPS) has a particular method of delivering to Vassar that can result in the lag in delivery time that students are experiencing.

The Vassar College Mailroom receives mail and packages on a daily basis from USPS. Packages are delivered to the Mailroom by the USPS in large postal containers. The packages are not separated in any kind of order, and even overnight USPS packages are thrown in among the rest. 

When packages arrive, they are individually scanned into the system by the Mailroom team, initiating the email notifications to students that their package has arrived. Normally, all packages are processed on the day they arrive. However, during busy times like the beginning of the semester, when the Mailroom generally receives 10–15 large postal containers a day, it may take two days to notify students. 

According to DeSantis, “Because all the packages are mixed together in the postal containers, and because the packaging doesn’t identify the package as medication, we don’t have a way to prioritize processing of medicine over other packages to help students receive their medicine faster.”

Another challenge posed by shipping through the USPS is that packages with tracking are marked “delivered” when the package arrives at the Arlington Post Office processing center.  Because of this, the Mailroom staff cannot confirm if a package is on campus grounds or not. During the busy times, a package marked delivered may not make its way to Vassar from the Arlington processing center for two days. 

Due to this process, DeSantis recommends students use shipping via UPS or FedEx if they are in need of medication immediately. 

In addition to her struggles with communicating with the Mailroom, Parker has also been facing difficulties with Baldwin Health Services. She explained how she had a prescription at Rite Aid on 709 Main Street, but was told that they did not deliver when she called for confirmation. She then reached out to Baldwin and was notified that Rite Aid only delivered on the weekends. After this interaction, Parker followed up with Rite Aid and was notified that the only Rite Aid pharmacy with delivery capabilities was the one on Hooker Avenue.

Director of Health Services Margot Schinella confirmed that this Rite Aid is the only one with delivery capabilities in addition to the CVS on Dutchess Turnpike.

Reflecting on her experiences, Parker wrote, “The process was…extremely stressful, especially when my energy should go towards my schoolwork and sport and social life.”

She continued, “There needs to be more clarity from all parties about what is going on. Baldwin needs to have more consistent information and the [M]ailroom needs to be more organized in the event that they cannot track down a package.”

In Parker’s case, the medications were not extremely crucial or time-sensitive. However, some students’ medications are time-sensitive, making it critical for them to receive their prescriptions on schedule. 

One student anonymously reported that they were in need of an emergency refill since their prescription was not being delivered to the Mailroom on time.

In an emailed statement, they elaborated on their encounter. They tried to reach out to Health Services during the weekend, but were unable to obtain a prescription because the office was closed. The following Monday, they were able to see a Baldwin nurse who wrote them a prescription for an emergency refill and notified them to receive permission to leave campus to pick up their medication from Director of Case Management Erika Pappas. According to them, it took two days to receive a response from Pappas.

In another anonymous report, a student described their struggles acquiring birth control. This particular individual was in need of a prescription for Ella, an emergency contraceptive that is only effective if taken within five days of intercourse. CVS is the only chain store that carries this product.

After receiving a prescription from a Baldwin staff member, the student was notified that the closest CVS that carried Ella was in Newburgh, NY, approximately a half an hour away from campus. Although they were cleared to leave campus to pick up their prescription, Baldwin did not provide any transportation assistance. The student was told they could take an Uber. Instead, they were able to contact a friend who lives off campus to pick up their medication and bring it to them on campus.

At the end of their account, the individual wrote, “Thank god I was able to call a friend who lives off campus and who has a car and he was able to pick it up for me and bring it to campus but otherwise I would’ve had to spend a ton of money on an Uber while endangering myself and others … All this to say—Vassar should definitely be stocking Ella!!”

According to Schinella, Baldwin has been particularly focused on increasing the stock of emergency contraception such as Ella. 

As of now, Schinella has contacted the Ella company to ensure the medication’s availability on campus. Additionally, Schinella has also been engaging in conversations with CHOICE representative Gillian Styring ’22 to have Baldwin acquire a Pill Club membership to make birth control more accessible on campus.

Beyond birth control, Schinella has also been working to expand Baldwin’s stock of over-the-counter and prescription medications ever since she assumed the Director of Health Services position this past August. They now carry anything from calamine lotion to ibuprofen and several other over-the-counter pharmaceutical products. They can also provide basic antibiotics such as azithromycin and amoxicillin.

Schinella stated, “We continue to expand [the supplies of over-the-counter and prescription medications] just so that we can meet the demands and keep people here and not have people go out.”

While Health Services tries to make adjustments to help students have better access to medication, they are still facing significant hurdles presented by COVID-19.

As Schinella said, “We have a lot of demand for a lot of different services. That’s been challenging.”

Despite these struggles, Schinella believes that the pandemic has presented an opportunity for growth: “It has had us all…reevaluate what we [do] and how we do it and how we can do better…We are trying to do everything we can to keep everyone safe and here on campus and will continue to do that.”

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