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Walmart Wonderland: A Strange Tale

I've been debating for a day or so whether to post this, because I don't want to advertise myself as someone who can solve this kind of problem. But I think this tale needs to be told. So here is it, as I wrote it up in email yesterday:

In addition to queries from people wanting help with NOLA disaster maps, I get a few from people asking for help of other kinds. The missing persons queries I really can't do anything with. But I got one that, after a little bit of discussion to clarify the issues, had something I might be able to help with.

The woman I'm trying to help is displaced from Jefferson Parish. She has type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. She was given a one week supply of each of her three medications. It was paid for by the Red Cross, and filled at the Walmart in Baton Rouge. She was running out of medication. She said the diabetes medication was crucial to the maintenance of her blood sugar levels, and without it she was at risk for going into a diabetic coma. Also at the time of our first email exchange, the only aid she had received was the one week prescription.

She had applied unsuccessfully for food stamps (since resolved). She also said, "I went online and applied to FEMA and received an application for an SBA loan."

In the meantime, she had relocated to a rural community, Baywood, LA. The nearest Walmart is in Zachary, LA. She went there to refill her prescription, but was told that the Red Cross picking up the tab was a one-time thing.

So, I thought about this a bit, and called up Melanie Miller, the Assistant Minister at the First Congregational Church in Chappaqua, NY. We kicked around some ideas of how to help, and our first thought was for Melanie to get in contact with a Congregational Church in Louisiana. She tried calling the one closest to Baywood. But for understandable reasons, their phone line was perpetually busy.

So we had another thought. Why couldn't Melanie just call the pharmacy department of the Zachary Walmart and give them the church's credit card number and have the church pick up the tab? Sounds easy, right? An elegant solution.

So Melanie called. And she was told, not very nicely, that we didn't have enough information to get the prescriptions refilled and that their usual policy was that they didn't take credit cards over the phone. So we get more information, and Melanie calls again and is told that the only one who can authorize phone credit card charges is Pat, the Manager, and that he won't be in until after 11 AM. She Melanie calls and calls. Pat is 45 minutes late to work. When he finally arrives, Melanie gets him on the phone and he declines to allow the First Congregational Church of Chappaqua to buy this woman her medication because he won't take a credit card number over the phone.

It seems to me that anyone managing a pharmacy would be fully aware of the risks of taking someone of the medications the woman was prescribed without a doctor's supervision. So I don't really understand what Pat the Manager is thinking. Now, I don't want to rag on Walmart, because their distribution system may be the backbone of the recovery. And I don't even want particularly to rag on the Zachary, LA Walmart. But PLEASE, people, WAKE UP. This is a national emergency.

My next thought was to give a call to the Westchester office of one of our elected officials to see if she can help, which I did, leaving a request from a constituent for assistance. Hillary lives just around the corner from the First Congregational Church, at 15 Old House Lane.

When Melanie got upset with Pat the Walmart Manager, he told her that there was a  possibility that our woman might be eligible for some form of free aid, but that she would need to call or come in to determine whether she was eligible. I suspect that if she contacts him to inquire, she will be told that the one week prescription from the Red Cross that she has already gone through is all that's available.

We're still working out it. Meanwhile, the woman is looking for a more cooperative pharmacy to which to transfer her prescriptions. I think she ran out of her diabetes medication a day or so ago.

UPDATE: Senator Clinton's office in on the case.

A FURTHER UPDATE AND EPILOGUE: First of all, our woman got her meds, so she isn't going to die. We had Senator Clinton's Westchester office all set to call Pat the Manager, but before the call took place, our woman transfered her prescriptions to a much-more-cooperative CVS, where she received her essential medication for free. Also, in the comments, Madeleine of the Red Cross explains that the Red Cross prescription help is not supposed to work the way the Zachary Walmart employees said. So if you have this kind of prescription problem, get in touch with the Red Cross for help solving it.