JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Military veterans and their families are waiting in line for hours just to pick up their prescriptions at NAS Jax.
It’s the only pharmacy they can go to and not pay a co-pay.
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Photos posted on Facebook show lines of cars around the corner at the NAS Jax pharmacy, which could rival what you’d see at a theme park.
”It’s just getting worse and worse as time goes on,” Retired Commander Bob Willen said.
Willen contacted Action News Jax after he went to the pharmacy two hours before it opened and found ten other cars already in line.
”I’ve been in that line as long as four hours before,” Willen said.
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We learned it’s not just the lines at the pharmacy, but also those on the phone, waiting to verify prescriptions. The base told Willen to verify prescriptions online through what’s called the Genesis Portal.
He’s a tech-savvy guy but hasn’t gotten it to work.
”It reaches a point where it gets so frustrating that it’s got to be hurtful to some people that are flat not taking their medicines because it’s too hard,” Willen said.
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After hearing Willen’s concerns, Action News Jax contacted the base, which provided a long list of alternate options for vets to fill prescriptions.
But Willen noted those other options all come with co-pays.
”I can afford it. But what about the people that have no other income other than Social Security? How are they supposed to afford to pay $18 per medicine?” Willen said.
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Action News Jax then reached out to Congressman Aaron Bean’s office, who represents the area and has a history in healthcare policy.
”They have earned benefits and we want to make sure, in our office, that they get everything and more that they’ve earned,” Bean said.
We learned the Congressman’s first call after winning his election last November was from a local veteran expressing concerns about the base pharmacy.
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“Turns out, congressmen listen,” Bean said.
In early April, Action News Jax was invited to sit in on a roundtable coordinated through the Naval Hospital and Bean’s office.
During the meeting, we learned the pharmacy has been operating below critical staffing for a year. It’s staffed to serve 56,000 in a community with 175,000 beneficiaries.
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The base pharmacy is also restricted by a pay cap, preventing it from offering salaries competitive with non-military pharmacies.
There are also additional screening requirements for employees working on military bases that slow down the hiring process.
”We’re competing against big conglomerates, not to mention, the big retailers here in the local area,” said Lieutenant Commander Jose Pulido, who leads the base pharmacy.
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Bean noted staffing is an issue plaguing the healthcare industry as a whole.
“Workforce shortages are real. How do we overcome those workforce shortages? Luckily for the Navy, they have technology they can embrace,” Bean said.
Pulido added there are some optimistic signs, with wait times trending downward as snowbirds return to their Northern homes. After Action News Jax started asking questions, the base said long-term fixes are being implemented. A new ScriptCenter, kind of like a P.O. box, will debut in early June and allow vets to pick up their prescriptions 24/7.
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The base indicated improvements to the Genesis Portal have also been made, making refiling and verifying prescriptions simpler, and a “pick up only” window was just rolled out.
“We’re trying to use everything,” Pulido said.
There’s also a new educational initiative called “Beat the Crowds,” urging local veterans to reconsider what time they pick up prescriptions.
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”If they come in, you know, mid-afternoon, mid-morning, allow us to get that first wave out their times are significantly reduced,” Pulido said.
As for Willen, he’s glad Action News Jax got involved, and is hopeful the changes will make a meaningful impact.
”Taking care of the families and taking care of the retirees who served their part is an integral part of a successful operation, I think. And I think they’ll improve it,” Willen said.
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The base is also working on its staffing challenges, though it is an issue that will take time to solve.
There have been 40 employees hired in recent months, and the base said it plans to prioritize finding employees to fill 15 vacant pharmacy jobs.
You can apply at usajobs.gov.
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