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MT Board of Pharmacy reinstates emergency rule to help on vaccines

HELENA — The state Board of Pharmacy has issued an emergency order to help pharmacists oversee and administer more vaccines for Covid-19 or other diseases – after that power had been revoked by Gov. Greg Gianforte.

The board issued the order last week, reinstating Montana pharmacists’ emergency authority to oversee other health-care professionals, such as nurses, and supervise additional pharmacy technicians, both for administering vaccines.

“We just needed bodies; we needed more people to help us,” said Eric Beyer, a pharmacist and owner of Granite Pharmacy stores in Missoula, Frenchtown, Philipsburg and Libby.

Beyer said there’s been a surge of demand for Covid-19 vaccines, just as many county health departments and medical offices across Montana have cut back on or stopped offering them – often leaving pharmacies to carry the load.

Pharmacies also will be facing more vaccine workload as the fall flu season gets under way, with people seeking flu vaccines, he added.

Pharmacists had authority under former Gov. Steve Bullock’s 2020 Covid-19 state-of-emergency order, to supervise other health-care professionals for giving vaccines and to supervise more than four pharmacy technicians to help handle the workload.

But that authority was revoked when Gianforte ended Bullock’s state-of-emergency declaration in June.

Beyer said pharmacists asked the Gianforte administration to reinstate the emergency rule, but that it declined. They then asked the state Board of Pharmacy, which issued the rule last Tuesday.

“We were very fortunate to have a state board to look at this,” he said.

Beyer said the Covid-19 vaccine involves more administrative work, such as reporting to state and federal agencies, and that confusion still exists about the vaccine, requiring pharmacies to spend time answering people’s questions.

Additional technicians can help ease that administrative burden, he said.

Also last week, the Gianforte administration issued an emergency order making it easier for Montana hospitals to move recovering patients to available beds at other hospitals or nursing homes.

Without the rule, hospitals cannot move Medicaid-covered patients anywhere without first checking to see if any nursing-home beds are available within a 25-mile radius.

Now, under the emergency rule, hospitals overcrowded with Covid-19 patients – primarily in urban areas — can move those patients to wherever an acceptable health-care bed is available, such as beds in less-crowded rural hospitals.

Hospitals often move patients to nursing homes or other less-restrictive environments when they’re ready to start recovering from an acute illness or surgery, and require less care.

Hospital officials told MTN News that, despite the change, it still may be difficult to find available beds, because of staffing shortages at smaller hospitals.

But the new rule will remove the administrative burden of having to call skilled-nursing homes within the 25-mile radius, and getting refused, before being able to search elsewhere for an available bed, officials said.

The emergency rule also waives the requirement that Medicaid-covered patients must be transferred to an available nursing-home be within 72 hours of that be becoming available.