‘Holding our mail hostage’: As issues with the US Postal Service persist, Summit County residents report problems accessing prescriptions and important mail
From vandalism at the Dillon Post Office to issues along rural delivery routes in Silverthorne, lapses with the U.S. Postal Service are impacting Summit County residents' access to letters, packages and medication.
For the better part of a month, Andrea Godfrey has been wearing her mismatched blue and red gloves, a yellow beanie and a long dark coat indoors at her home in Silverthorne.
Godfrey, 71, has lived in the same home for much of the past 50 years, ever since her parents built the place in the 1970s. Now retired and living on a fixed income, she relies on government assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for food and the Colorado Low-income Energy Assistance Program for heating costs.
But, this year, when it came time for Godfrey to renew her applications for those programs, she says the mail didn’t come. Both the SNAP application and LEAP application arrived at her P.O. box in Dillon after the deadline by which they were due, she said.
“So here we are in the middle of winter,” Godfrey said. “With no LEAP assistance whatsoever.”
The SNAP application was due Nov. 15 and the LEAP application around Nov. 20, but neither arrived in the mail until toward the end of the month, sometime after Thanksgiving, according to Godfrey.
Working with the Summit County Senior Center, Godfrey said she was able to renew her SNAP benefits — but on Jan. 5, LEAP notified her that she would not receive heating assistance because she did not provide the requested income verification by the deadline.
So, to keep the pipes from freezing, Godfrey has an array of do-it-yourself setups around the home — from plastic wrap over windows to water bottles filled with black liquid to absorb the sunlight’s warmth and tea light candles burning their small flames under flower pots. Still, the temperature in her home lingers in the mid-40s most days.
“I’m probably more prepared than a lot of people for this sort of thing, but it should not have happened where I lost my assistance,” Godfrey said. “I almost lost my SNAP benefits. It was only through my care advocate [at the senior center] that I kept that. It’s a ridiculous situation.”
Godfrey has since reapplied for LEAP, which has open enrollment through April, and expects to receive assistance in February. But, she said, her situation highlights how delays in the mail are having tangible impacts on people’s lives.
“It’s just an example of how the breakdown in service is affecting people that rely on timely mail,” she said. “Being able to get our mail, being able to get it on time — it’s not getting any better. If anything it’s worse.”
‘Not just an inconvenience’
For years, many Summit County residents, especially those in Dillon and Silverthorne, have complained about a lack of reliable mail service from the U.S. Postal Service. Those issues became especially acute in Dillon in December, after acts of vandalism led the post office to restricted access to P.O. boxes, which had previously been open 24/7.
For many, waiting an extra couple of days or weeks for holiday letters or in a long line for packages may have caused some annoyance, but for those who rely on the Postal Service for prescriptions or important documents, the situation has had serious consequences.
Monika Mayer works full-time as a ski instructor at Breckenridge Ski Resort. Over the busy holiday season, she said she had to work every day. So, when the Dillon Post Office began restricting lobby access to P.O. boxes in December, Mayer said she had issues accessing her blood pressure medication, which comes by mail.
Over the holidays, when P.O. box access was restricted to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mayer said she went 10 days without access to her prescription, which she is supposed to take daily.
“The hours are only during the day,” Mayer said. “So for working people it’s impossible to get to the post office on time.”
With little to no communication about the change in hours, Mayer said she was relying on Facebook posts to figure out when the Dillon Post Office was — or wasn’t — open. When she finally had a day off from work on Jan. 2, the post office was closed for the New Year holiday, she said.
Finally, after days without her blood pressure medication, she was able to make it back to Dillon before the post office closed — but only by speeding all the way back from Breckenridge, she said.
“I survived, but it definitely puts people at risk,” Mayer said. “It’s affecting a lot of people, and it’s not just an inconvenience. It was very stressful for me.
“They’re kind of holding our mail hostage,” she added.
Mayer noted that while there are options to receive prescriptions at local pharmacies, those are often more expensive than by mail, and the Walgreens in town is also unreliable since it is often closed.
Melissa McCalmont, who also receives her mail through the Dillon Post Office, said she has several times paid full price at the pharmacy for prescriptions, rather than deal with the post office.
But McCalmont said her insurance provider Cigna is pushing for her and her husband to get mail-delivery prescriptions — and the City Market pharmacy is no longer in network.
“The problem is they are forcing me to get most of my medication in the mail,” she said. “Medications that we take every single day, and when we’re talking about the post office here it just doesn’t — it’s not going to work for me.”
In particular, McCalmont said her insurer has told her that her thyroid medication will have to be mailed. And while she knows she is privileged to be able to get out of work and to the post office during the day when she needs to pick up a prescription when she needs to, she said that is not true for everyone.
“I’m one of the lucky ones because I can work around it,” she said. “…It’d be nice if something changed, but I’m not holding out hope.”
Then there is Keystone resident Melinda Galjour, who had the foresight to switch the delivery of her prescription from the Dillon Post Office to a friend’s work office in mid-December — just before the vandalism led to restricted hours and increased wait times.
Living with Type 1 diabetes, Galjour said she relies on the mail because she doesn’t have the option to pick up her medical supplies at most pharmacies. And missing a dose could have serious health consequences, she said.
“I don’t think people with chronic diseases or situations for healthcare should have to resort to a backup plan,” Galjour said. “We should be able to rely on our community post office and trust that it’s not going to get lost and that we can pick it up the day it gets there or the next day.”
‘Back to square one’
Even as local governments have been bombarded with concerns from residents, they have little control over a federal agency like the Postal Service or federal facilities like post offices.
After Silverthorne town leaders met with Postal Service officials early last year in an attempt to solve issues related to the unreliable mail services, the town manager in an email last week expressed dismay that those talks had not continued.
“We are in the dark and back to square one it appears,” Silverthorne Town Manager Ryan Hyland wrote in the email to Postal Service officials shared with Summit Daily.
Hyland forwarded several complaints from Silverthorne residents to Postal Service officials. Those complaints included residents on delivery routes throughout town who said they had not received their mail, sometimes for weeks at a time.
Silverthorne resident Heather Wood was one of the residents who brought the issue to the town’s attention, stating in an email that a package that was supposed to be delivered Dec. 30, didn’t arrive until Jan. 17.
For Wood, who has Stage 4 lung cancer, late deliveries can be a major concern.
“I live with lung cancer, so I take a pretty detailed protocol of supplements and prescription medications,” Wood said in a phone interview. “In December one of my supplements I get in the mail was returned and then in January it wasn’t coming, so that is when I started making calls.”
Sometimes, Wood said she will switch her prescriptions and supplements to FedEx — which can cost several extra dollars — rather than risk relying on the Postal Service. But she said it can be stressful having to make sure her prescriptions show up on time.
Meanwhile, other residents have been left wondering what to do when important mail — such as bills, insurance information, end-of-year tax documents or perhaps even jury summons — don’t show up.
Silverthorne resident, Ernest Frey, for example, said he has USPS Informed Delivery — a free service that emails users preview images of incoming mail. As of Jan. 1, he said that service showed 53 incoming items, of which he has received only 21. Still out there, undelivered, are tax statements, his property tax notice from the county, medical notices, medicare documents, health insurance papers and more, he said.
“Less than half my mail is being delivered,” Frey said.
In an email to Summit County officials, Frey and his wife, Lorna, raised concerns about what legal repercussions one could face if they received a jury summons by mail that didn’t show up in time for them to respond and implored officials to take action.
Noting local and county government’s inability to respond to issues with a federal service such as the Postal Service, Interim County Manager Philip Gonshak echoed the Silverthorne town manager’s frustrations in an email to the Postal Service.
“The citizens of Summit County should not be constantly worried about what they are missing in the mail and what consequences await them in the future for failure to receive routine mail,” Gonshak wrote.
On the federal level, elected representatives say they are attempting to work with the Postal Service to make improvements. Meanwhile the agency itself says it is aware that it is not meeting the expectations of residents in Summit County.
Hannah Rehm, a spokesperson for U.S. Rep Joe Neguse said the congressman is very familiar with the issues Summit County residents are having with the Postal Service. Several residents told Summit Daily they had contacted his office, as well as Sen. Michael Bennet’s office, and discussed the issue with staff.
“The Congressman believes the service and conditions at the Dillon Post Office and many rural mountain post offices across his district are simply inexcusable,” Rehm said in a statement. “And his office has continued to relay the same and his deep frustrations to USPS officials.”
Neguse has requested that the Postal Service provide alternate methods to pick up mail, expand the hours that residents have access to their P.O. boxes, aggressively recruit more staff and meet with officials from the affected towns, according to the statement.
He also plans to directly implore the U.S. Postal Service Colorado-Wyoming District Manager to address challenges at local post offices immediately, Rehm said. And, to hold the Postal Service accountable, Neguse “intends to evaluate every recourse possible, including through the appropriations and legislative process,” according to the statement.
In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for Sen. Michael Bennet shared the following statement, “Our office is aware of the recent vandalism to the Dillon Post Office and has been in ongoing communication with both local leadership as well as the USPS District Office in Denver.”
James Boxrud, a spokesperson for the Postal Service, said the Dillon Post Office is still waiting for the parts to come in so that they can repair the security door damaged during the vandalism and restore overnight access to P.O. boxes. Boxrud said in an email last week that those parts could take another six to seven weeks to be delivered.
“We are as frustrated with this delay as our customers,” he said.
The Dillon Post Office is now opening the lobby at 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday to allow residents to access their P.O. boxes, Boxrud said. The window for package pickup will remain open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, with an afternoon closure for lunch, and from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.
For many months, the Postal Service has been aggressively seeking clerks and carriers to stabilize their workforce, according to Boxrud, who said the challenges the Postal Service is facing are not unique to Dillon and Silverthorne.
The pandemic led to an increase of online ordering, Boxrud said. Moreover, while the Postal Service will continue to flex its available resources and augment local staff with help from surrounding regions, the agency has felt the impacts of the nationwide employment challenge in many communities, he said.
Boxrud said the agency is working on scheduling a meeting with town officials, congressional representatives, and Postal Service leadership to discuss staffing issues and housing options. When costumers have issues with mail service, he suggested they reach out to the agency online at USPS.Force.com/emailus/s/ or call 1-800-275-8777. He noted that the Postal Service is hiring in Summit County and in surrounding regions and applications can be found online.
“We know we have not met service expectations of the community,” Boxrud said. “And we are working hard to restore the respect of the public.”
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