For the last month, pharmacist Robert Newman has grappled with major phone, internet and fax problems.
Four of the five landlines maintained by Verizon at Regal Pharmacy are not working as of last weekend, meaning customers trying to reach the 558 W. 235th St., shop about their medications are getting a lot of busy signals — something a pharmacy can’t afford to have.
“This has really had a severe, negative impact on business,” Newman said. “I said to (Verizon), ‘If it was a hospital and their phone lines were down, I’m sure you would do something.’ I mean, this is a health care provider that we can’t service our customers who need medicine. There’s a flu epidemic going on, and they can’t get through to us.”
Verizon was supposed to have fixed the problem by Feb. 5, according to U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel’s office, but that day came and went with no relief. By Feb. 9, Regal’s lines were still down, and its internet had been disrupted since since 3 p.m., the day before. That made it impossible for Regal to transmit claims and process prescriptions through insurance companies online.
“Some customers, I’ve been giving them the medicine,” Newman said. “I’ll bill it later if they need it.”
Newman typically would have a fax machine as backup, but that was down, too. Several area group homes, clinics and facilities for the handicapped, elderly and blind rely on faxes, the pharmacist added.
“We’re not able to get these orders, so people have been driving over here to get them or calling us,” Newman said, “if they can get through.”
Verizon spokesman Ray McConville told The Riverdale Press he’d look into the issue, but didn’t return multiple follow-up requests for comment. Nor did several members of Verizon’s media department or its government affairs representative.
“It’s terrible,” said Yasser Sosa, a pharmacy technician at Regal Pharmacy. “We’re losing customers. This is bad.”
Tina Zou, who works for nearby Chinese eatery Hunan Balcony, said her restaurant has been affected. And losing phone lines has been a big debacle for her restaurant, considering a substantial portion of its business comes from delivery orders placed over the phone.
Hunan Balcony’s Verizon woes weren’t as bad as Regal’s, however, with lines at the restaurant down for just a week, not a month, according to Zou. Still, the restaurant’s owner reported a loss in revenue of about $10,000 during that week.
As soon as phone lines went down on Jan. 31, the restaurant called Verizon only to be told workers couldn’t get there until the following weekend at the earliest, Zou said. But when that Saturday came, Verizon didn’t show, saying it had to reschedule for the Wednesday after.
“That wastes a lot of time,” Zou said. “There should be emergency service. It’s not a house. It’s a business.”
When Verizon finally came, they couldn’t help, Zou said. With no other choice, Hunan Balcony switched to a different company — Optimum — and now its lines are up and running again.
But Hunan Balcony and Regal weren’t alone — several other businesses serviced by Verizon suffered service outages around the same time.
“They all have the same problems,” Zou said. “They changed to Optimum as well because we don’t know when Verizon will fix it.”
The nearby Country Bank outlet struggled with phone problems, but Verizon has since restored service there, said an employee who wouldn’t give her name.
Verizon’s problems seem to be coming from water seeping into the underground wire infrastructure at West 235th and Netherland Avenue, according to Bryant Daniels, an Engel aide. Pizza Chef and Palace of Japan were also hit, Daniels said, adding he hoped Verizon was “putting the pedal to the metal” in getting lines restored.
“Verizon has been working overtime to dry out the wires and replace the damages,” Engel said, in a statement, promising to “continue to monitor the situation closely.”
But as of last Friday, still no relief for Newman, who said he’d seen one of the Verizon workers sleeping in a truck. Verizon reportedly tried to contact the workers but couldn’t reach them.
“They’ve got their crew out here doing something, and whatever they’re doing, it’s just made things worse,” Newman said. “Before, at least we were able to fill prescriptions. I can’t fill them. Might as well close up and go home.”
Regal Pharmacy planned to switch to Optimum by Feb. 12, Newman said, putting an end to the back-and-forth with Verizon. In the meantime, things have become worse.
“It’s like they’re holding us hostage now, because we’re switching,” Newman said. “But they said, ‘Oh, since you’re switching to Optimum, we can’t do anything for you.’
“The telephone is like our business lifeline. We can’t function without it. And patient care suffers terribly when this happens.”
And Newman’s take on what Verizon is doing?
“They’re worse than the mafia.”