First center of kind offers counseling support for medical marijuana patients
Warwick-based B&B Medical Marijuana Evaluation Center has received its Ambulatory Care Facility License from the Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH), making it the first center in the country to provide both medical appointments and consulting for patients looking to join the state’s medical marijuana program.
B&B received their license on Feb. 18, after nearly a year-long process working with DOH. Owner and office manager Jessica Cotton said the company participated in three hearings over the past year.
“It was a very lengthy process,” she added.
Located at 300 Toll Gate Road, the center opened two years ago in May 2012, as consultants for a doctor under the name B&B Consulting LLC.
“Now we’re an organizational care facility,” said Cotton.
That means patients interested in using medical marijuana to manage symptoms associated with various conditions can visit the center, be evaluated by a doctor and, if approved, work with a volunteer counselor to complete all of the paperwork to receive their medical marijuana. The patient will also have three follow-up appointments as per DOH regulations over the course of the two years their card is valid; a fourth follow-up will serve as a card renewal appointment, and the cycle begins again. The follow-up appointments allow the doctor to update medical records, and evaluate if the marijuana is actually helping.
Although B&B has been operational for two years, Cotton said the license from DOH gives them an additional level of professionalism.
“We wanted to prove to everyone we are legit,” said Cotton.
Cotton said the center serves patients looking to join the state’s medical marijuana program or looking for assistance with card renewal. B&B not only follows all DOH standards, but the Center’s doctor, Dr. Thomas Rocco, and nurse practitioner, Sally Davidson, review all patient medical files before a patient is scheduled for their first appointment.
“There is only a certain number of medical conditions that meet Department of Health conditions,” explained Cotton. If the patient meets requirements, the doctor will meet with them to evaluate if they will benefit from the medicine.
If approved, the doctor signs the application, and consultants assist with the next step of applying to DOH. One thing the consultants help with is identifying two compassion centers, two natural caregivers who can grow the marijuana, or one of each.
“A lot of patients are like, ‘OK, what do I do now?’” said Cotton. “We have the knowledge to help them navigate through the process.”
B&B does not provide the actual product, but lists compassion centers or directs patients to Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition (RIPAC) for a listing of natural caregivers. Cotton also recommends all patients visit RIPAC; they not only host a weekly patient orientation, but can provide even more detail than B&B consultants. “They’re the ones that basically got this program started,” said Cotton.
None of B&B’s services are covered by insurance, so patients must pay out of pocket. The first appointment is $200, or $175 for those on fixed incomes. Each follow-up appointment is $50, and so long as a patient attended each of their follow-ups, the renewal appointment will be discounted at $140.
Cotton knows firsthand the benefits medical marijuana can have. Her husband Bill was one of the first patients in the state to enroll in the medical marijuana program to manage his multiple sclerosis. Bill has stopped taking all prescription medications and is managing his condition with only medical marijuana.
While Bill is one of the “B’s” in B&B, the other is Peter Benson, a longtime friend of the Cottons. A quadriplegic since he was young, Benson was taking a multitude of medications, but was only able to sleep through the night without leg spasms after using medical marijuana. While he has not stopped all other medications, his new treatment had lowered his prescription use.
The Cottons were inspired to create this Evaluation Center while they were volunteering at RIPAC’s call center. Cotton remembers calls from patients looking for doctors who would sign applications because theirs refused. Cotton even heard stories about oncologists refusing to provide medical marijuana to patients in pain. There was also word of centers signing any application without proper requirements.
“When we heard there were places opening and just signing the applications, we said ‘you know what, there’s a real need for real patients who need this medicine,’” said Cotton.
With financial support from Benson, the Cottons started their business.
“We also feel it’s important to preserve the medical marijuana program,” said Cotton. “We’re trying to do the best to get the highest quality care for patients.”
Cotton said most patients are suffering from cancer, chronic back pain, and arthritis. Medical marijuana can also help patients with HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C and Crohn’s Disease. An additional benefit is medical marijuana can help patients get off narcotics, opiates and other prescription meds for their treatment.
“It’s amazing how many people come in and say thank God you’re here,” said Cotton.
Cotton believes B&B is not only the first center to combine medical evaluations with consulting in the state, but in the country. She has searched for other centers online, but has not found anything similar.
“We’re hoping to raise that bar [for centers],” said Cotton, adding that she already received a call from someone in Florida hoping to create a similar program.
Down the road, Cotton hopes B&B will be able to develop a greater partnership with DOH to speed up the process of receiving a medical marijuana card; currently, when an application is submitted, it can still take up to three months to get the card.
For more information, call B&B Medical Marijuana Evaluation Center at 921-5791.