KULPMONT — Vikki Benedetto had her monthly appointment to see Dr. Raymond Kraynak scheduled Dec. 27, only to wake up and learn his medical license had been suspended by the State Board of Osteopathic Medicine (SBOM).
Benedetto had been hoping to receive guidance from her long-term physician on steps she should take to receive her medications after Kraynak had surrendered his DEA license to dispense controlled substances as part of a bail agreement. The deal was related to a federal indictment on Dec. 22 that charges Kraynak with 19 counts related to overprescribing opioids, including five cases where the patients died.
Since then, Benedetto said she and a male friend, who wishes to remain anonymous, have had no luck in finding a new primary care physician. She said they have been told more than once, “We don’t give out pills,” when attempting to make appointments.
“I’m just so emotionally exhausted from the whole thing,” she said Monday. “It’s unbelievable. It’s like banging your head on the wall.”
Benedetto said Kraynak had treated her for a number of ailments. When she had no insurance, he would see her for free, she said. If she needed antibiotics or Prednisone, he would often give her samples to save her money.
150 oxys per month
Benedetto is open about being on daily medication for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and anxiety. Due to severe knee pain, she was also prescribed 150 oxycodone per month.
She took them as directed and didn’t get addicted, but her friend, 48 years old, didn’t fare the same. Following two hip surgeries, he was prescribed opioids and was using them regularly before becoming a patient of Kraynak, she said. He, too, was prescribed 150 oxycodone per month. But unlike Benedetto, he took them more frequently than prescribed.
“You don’t realize how many you’re taking. When you’re in chronic pain, you don’t realize, and then you get addicted,” she said of her friend’s usage.
She said she would give her friend pills, not recognizing his addiction, but simply wanting to see his pain eased.
Her friend’s prescription ran out around the time Kraynak’s medical license was suspended, causing him to go through withdrawal severe enough to send him to the Geisinger-Shamokin Area Community Hospital emergency room four times, Benedetto said. Each time he was given medication for nausea, pamphlets and a list of doctors accepting new patients — but no real help, she claims.
Trying to find a physician for both her and her friends, Benedetto said she called several medical practices and has not found a physician willing to see them. She said she has been frequently told they aren’t accepting new patients or they don’t accept her insurance.
She asked, “When you’re crying out for help and nobody’s helping, what are you supposed to do?”
Now in a state of despair and frustration, Benedetto finds herself not placing blame on Kraynak, local physicians or patients who abused medication, but rather on the system that has seemingly left them without help.
“The system is not taking care of the people who are left in the wake. It’s sad,” she said. “They didn’t think about it,” she added, talking about the state’s decision to suspend his license and shut down his practice. “They think they did this wonderful thing, but then nobody’s left to care for the people. If they thought there was a problem before, there’s going to be an even bigger problem now.”
A physician has a “professional responsibility to assist in his or her patients’ continuity of care” in the event they are unable to practice or no longer have an active license, said Wanda Murren, director of the PA Department of State Office of Communications and Press.
“For example, in accordance with regulations, a physician is responsible for maintaining a patient’s medical records for at least seven years from the date of the last entry,” she continued. “Regulations also require a physician who no longer has an active license to provide a patient, or a patient’s authorized representative, copies of the medical records.”
Following the loss of Kraynka’s license, April Hutchinson, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, advised insured patients of Kraynak to contact their providers and reach out to approved physicians. Uninsured or underinsured patients can seek services at a federally qualified health center, she said.
Murren mirrored Hutchinson’s statements for patients of Kraynak, adding that federally qualified health centers do not turn patients away.
Shamokin Community Health Center, 4203 Hospital Road, Coal Township, is one such provider and can be reached at 570-486-4588. Additional qualified center locations can be found at findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov.
Patients going through opioid withdrawal also can seek assistance from the Northumberland County Drug and Alcohol Program, 217 N. Center St., Sunbury.
“Nobody is turned away from our program as far as coming in for an intake and an assessment,” administrator Manny Giorgini said Friday.
Staff help patients find the appropriate level of care and refer them to the county assistance office or help find other funding resources to help with treatment.
Since Kraynak surrendered his DEA license, Giorgini said they have heard from Centers of Excellence that they have been taking on former Kraynak patients. Centers of Excellence locations can be found at www.dhs.pa.gov/citizens/substanceabuseservices/centersofexcellence.
Patients experiencing symptoms of opioid withdrawal are encouraged to stop in or call the drug and alcohol office daily between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. at 570-495-2154, or after hours call 570-495-2040.