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‘Extremely frustrating’ mail delays for prescriptions hit veterans, rural areas

Stacks of boxes holding mail are seen at a U.S. Post Office sorting center. Photo by Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Jan Stowe, a Vietnam War veteran from Traverse City, Mich., says she was unable to move her head and neck for several days last month after going without medication to treat extreme muscle spasms.

Stowe, a Department of Veterans Affairs patient who receives her medication through the U.S. Postal Service, said in an interview with States Newsroom that she missed four or five days taking her prescription for diazepam, commonly marketed as Valium, because of mail delays.

Without the drug, her movement was restricted, and she started experiencing withdrawal symptoms, she said. It wasn’t life-threatening, she said, “but it was life-altering.”

“It’s not life-saving,” she added. “It’s not like insulin, or heart medication or anything like that. But it was just extremely frustrating and uncomfortable.”

Stowe is not alone. Veterans, people who require specialty medications, rural residents far from pharmacies and others who receive their prescription medications through the Postal Service say they have experienced delays and other delivery disruptions after the Trump administration made changes to post office operations.

The anecdotes have added fuel to Democrats’ criticism of a Postal Service overhaul they say is to blame, and involve a key group that President Donald Trump has worked to court throughout his presidency — veterans, who rely heavily on the mail for their medications.

The Postal Service has removed sorting machines and other infrastructure from post offices and limited postal workers’ hours since Postmaster General Louis DeJoy joined the agency in June. DeJoy has said removal of sorting machines was underway before he joined the government and has disputed that he’s limited overtime hours. A July memo to all Postal Service employees, though, restricts extra trips to ensure on-time delivery.

DeJoy has also rebutted allegations that he’s acting at the behest of President Donald Trump to deliberately sabotage the upcoming elections.

There is little indication prescription delivery problems are widespread. The VA said its average shipping time in July was about 2.9 days, up from 2.3 days the previous month — a 25% increase but still within the three to five days the VA aims at for delivery. The country’s major pharmacies and shippers of prescription drugs haven’t complained about late deliveries.

But there is at least anecdotal evidence that patients like Stowe who depend on the mail for prescription medication are seeing delays, and it’s stressful even for those who’ve not missed doses. The VA has told the Veterans of Foreign Wars that the Detroit area, along with parts of New York and New Jersey, are hotspots for prescription delivery problems, according to the VFW spokesman Terrence Hayes. Read more

‘I have not lost my voice’: Gabby Giffords at Democratic convention calls for end to gun violence

Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords – Image: Giffords Courage to Fight Gun Violence

Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords opened the third night of the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday, recounting her recovery from a gunshot wound to the head and her embrace of activism on gun violence policy.

Giffords, of Arizona, appeared in a pre-taped video that included images of her long, painful rehabilitation from the 2011 assassination attempt. The segment showed her in a hospital bed shortly after the shooting, and then limping, practicing her speech and playing the French horn in the present day.

In her remarks, she said the assault led to her work against gun violence.

“I’ve known the darkest of days, days of pain and uncertain recovery. But confronted by despair, I’ve summoned hope,” she said. “My recovery is a daily fight, but fighting makes me stronger. Words once came easily; today I struggle with speech. But I have not lost my voice.”

In a tweet following her appearance, Giffords’ husband, astronaut and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kelly, said it was the longest speech Giffords has given since the attack.

Giffords urged viewers to speak out against gun violence and to vote for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, framing the election as a crossroads where voters could elect to stop gun violence.

The Democratic platform calls for universal background checks, ending online sales of guns and ammunition, banning assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines and incentivizing states to enact laws that make it easier for law enforcement to temporarily remove guns from people they deem dangerous.

Giffords’ video was preceded by a clip of Biden promising to “never give up this fight” against gun violence.

In a statement, Shannon Watts, founder of the gun control group Moms Demand Action, called Giffords “a hero and an inspiration” and said her appearance was evidence that gun control has become a major campaign issue.

The convention’s third night included more appeals to policy than the first two. In addition to the guns segment, speakers addressed climate change and immigration.

Giffords was first elected to Congress in 2006 and retired in 2012 following the assassination attempt in Tucson and became an advocate for tougher gun laws. She founded her own anti-gun group in 2016.

Kelly is challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Martha McSally. Kelly has led the race in fundraising. National campaign analysis website Inside Elections rates the race as “tilt Democratic.”

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Librarians, national guard recruited for states’ new contact tracing armies

Image: Pennsylvania Department of Health

As states loosen wide-ranging restrictions imposed to constrain the novel coronavirus, they’re also looking to deploy a huge new fleet of workers to keep cases under control.

Enter the contact tracers.

With interpersonal contact certain to increase as states lift COVID-19 restrictions, tracing whom infected people had contact with — and then isolating those contacts — will help contain it. But to be effective, states will need more than the handful of full-time staffers county and city-level public health offices employ to track patients with more routine diseases, like sexually transmitted infections.

“We’re concerned about having the workforce that we need,” said Janet Hamilton, the executive director of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists.

Hamilton’s group signed onto a letter late last month that called for $7.6 billion in federal funding to support about 100,000 new contact tracers and 1,600 new epidemiologists. Another group of experts called for $12 billion to hire another 180,000 tracers.

States have just begun spending money from the $2 trillion aid package signed into law in March for contact tracing. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) said this week that $75 million of the state’s $1.1 billion allotment under the act would be used for expanded tracing.

But the demand for testing comes as state budgets have been “decimated” and unable to solely meet their tracing needs, said Joanna Dornfeld, director of state affairs for the United States of Care, a nonprofit group that supports universal health care.

“While there has been some federal dollars for contact tracing… it’s not sufficient,” Dornfeld said. “So states have been approaching contact tracing in a variety of ways.”

Many states have moved their own employees around to focus more on contact tracing. Tracers don’t have to have a clinical background, though most do have an advanced degree, but others can be trained to do the work, said J.T. Lane, the chief population health and innovation officer for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

Public health officials first repurposed employees with related backgrounds. Other public health workers, social workers and others with case management and interview training are natural targets for assignment, Lane said. Even some librarians in the San Francisco area were reassigned to tracing.

Ohio and Michigan hired outside firms to help with tracing and volunteer recruitment. Maryland contracted a University of Chicago-based research firm for some of the state’s tracing efforts. Others have activated their national guard and recruited volunteers.

North Carolina Health News reported yesterday that North Carolina has managed to get 400 tracers in place:

“The Carolina Community Tracing Collaborative, a new organization that DHHS is partnering with, has hired 152 new tracers to assist the 250 tracers already working in the state’s 85 county-based public health departments.”

But to reach the level of tracing needed for a disease as deadly and widespread as COVID-19, states will have to massively increase their workforce. Read more