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Cardinal Healthcare Remains Open, Patients Relieved

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RALEIGH — A quarter million people in Raleigh can breathe easy. Cardinal Healthcare says it is not closing its doors.

There is also good news for people left out in the cold by the closure of North Carolina Medical Associates. They should still be able to get the medicine they need.

Cardinal Healthcare says it has no plans to shut down, despite its dispute with its practice management group, Medpartners.

Meanwhile, help is on the way for patients of North Carolina Medical Associates whose doctors are not being allowed to practice because of non-compete contracts with Medpartners - other doctors and pharmacists are stepping in.

It is Thursday night and the waiting room at Tremont Walk-in Clinic is packed. It is not unusual especially since North Carolina Medical Associates went bankrupt, and 20 doctors in the area had to stop practicing.

"We're getting a lot of folks who come in and say that they're here because it's hard to find another place and we're accommodating as many of them as we can," Tremont Medical Doctor Jeff Tope said.

In fact, the clinic is accommodating an extra 20 patients a day. Patients like Cindy and Sarah Istook.

"It takes a long time to get in as a new patient with a doctor that you haven't seen before," Cindy said. "So we had to come and look for a place that would take us and let us walk-in."

While doctors at walk-in clinics and emergency rooms help fill the void, pharmacists are also stepping in.

Area pharmacists say they have been swamped with calls from NCMA patients who need prescriptions refilled. Now the North Carolina Pharmacy Board has passed an emergency rule allowing pharmacists to refill prescriptions without a doctor's order, based on the pharmacist's judgement.

"We feel like by providing this and allowing pharmacies to do this, we could give that continuing care and relieve some of the tension and anxiety the patients are feeling right at this moment," president of the North Carolina Board of Pharmacy Al Lockamy said.

The new rule applies only to maintenance medications for things like asthma, diabetes and hypertension. It does not apply to strong narcotics like morphine or codine.

Also Thursday, a mediation session took place that started in the morning and lasted well into the night. The meeting with representatives of NCMA, Medpartners and the attorney general's office was designed to try to find a way to the let the doctors continue practicing.

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Laurie Clowers, Reporter
Greg Clark, Photographer
Jason Darwin, Web Editor

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