By Jackie Rothman

 It was only weeks after Hurricane Ian that the full scope of the devastation became apparent. Communities on the gulf coast suffered human loss and the loss of homes, and jobs, displacing thousands of people across the state.

On October 3rd, an estimated 10,000 Florida residents were in emergency shelters. Natural disasters tragically disrupt lives. But Hurricane Ian posed even more challenges for patients with chronic health conditions. Individuals with severe pain, spasticity, cancer, epilepsy, and other health conditions were greatly at risk.

Continuity of care is a priority for every provider. As Florida’s largest medical cannabis health evaluation service provider, DocMJ is committed to ensuring patient care. And providing the support that OMMU-registered patients need from physicians.

How Did Medical Cannabis Health Providers Respond During Hurricane Ian?

With twenty-five clinics across the state of Florida, DocMJ moved quickly to collaborate with our physicians and reschedule patient appointments. An inconvenience to some, but a necessary step to protect the safety of patients and our healthcare and administrative team.

Like other residents, we watched the development of Hurricane Ian and hoped for the best. Particularly for patients who rely on medical cannabis daily to relieve debilitating symptoms. In April 2022, the number of qualified patients on the OMMU registry surpassed 700,000.

Some patients were very concerned about delays in updating their physician’s recommendation for medical cannabis. And fearful that their Florida medical cannabis card would expire without a timely follow-up appointment. Our team worked to handle each individual’s need and helped expedite and triage follow-up appointments based on urgency.

DocMJ created a resource article for patients registered with the Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU). We distributed the guidance for patients to promote awareness and to help avoid disruptions to the alternative health aids patients rely on.

Read: “Hurricanes and MMJ: What Patients Can Do to Prepare”

What Steps Did Licensed Dispensaries Take to Support Patients?

Medical providers were not the only ones to leap into action and contingency plans for Hurricane Ian. Dispensaries also increased patient communication and extended support to help maintain access to medical cannabis following the storm.

According to MJBizDaily®, Trulieve staffed a two-day event to provide free food to almost 400 residents of Port Charlotte, Florida. The dispensary also contributed to the Florida Disaster Fund, providing patients with the opportunity to donate at the checkout, and is percentage matching patient donations.

Storm damage also significantly impacted dispensaries, including indoor cannabis (greenhouse) and outdoor crop locations. And Florida agricultural businesses (including food growers) have reported an estimated loss of $1.5B in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

However, some dispensary locations that sustained minimal damage were able to reopen for patients during the week following Hurricane Ian. Many Florida dispensaries are discounting products for patients. And they provide extended service hours for pick-up and onsite assistance for patients.

Florida’s medical cannabis product and healthcare service providers put patient needs first as an essential service. And that meant ensuring continuity of care and access to the alternative health products that patients rely on.

Was Telemedicine Legally Reinstated for Florida?

The Florida Department of Health issued an emergency order that temporarily reinstated telemedicine services for patients. It is a temporary measure and part of the disaster recovery plan; patients can schedule medical cannabis follow-up appointments only until November 30, 2022.

The DOH recognized that access to physicians is compromised in certain counties across the state that were hardest hit by Hurricane Ian.

However, telemedicine services for medical cannabis patients are only available for follow-up appointments. That is the mandatory appointment with a licensed physician to renew a medical cannabis recommendation annually.

Read: “Hurricane Relief: Telemedicine Follow-Up Appointments Now Available”

DocMJ will be extending our telemedicine appointment hours to accommodate patients better.

We will be accepting evening and weekend appointments until November 30, 2022.

Jackie Rothman is Chief Operating Officer at DocMJ.