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Pharmacists, techs hit with burnout, frustration amid labor shortage

Amazon opens an online pharmacy in attempt to shake up another major industry
Posted at 5:20 PM, Dec 21, 2021

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The labor shortage continues to impact companies all over the country, however one industry is really feeling it — pharmacies.

Long wait times, mistakes with medication refills, reduced hours of operation are just some of the issues reportedly happening inside pharmacies.

"If you look at supply and demand, unfortunately, with COVID it's made pharmacists be in high demand," said Dr. David Gregory, dean of the College of Pharmacy at Belmont University.

With the threat of omicron, the demand isn’t going anywhere, but pharmacists and technicians are stressed, according to The Tennessee Pharmacists Association.

The group reports pharmacists and technicians are overworked and are crying out for help.

What’s causing it, according to TPA, is understaffing and unrealistic performance metrics which is referred to as a "misaligned payment system that rewards volume and not value."

Additionally, the group said employers have an obligation to increase staffing in their pharmacies, in order to promote safety and access for patients and to improve well-being for their pharmacists and pharmacy technicians. 

Independent pharmacist Parker Phillips, owner of Riverside Village Pharmacy, says most of the burnout is happening at chain pharmacies.

"I know they’re probably suffering the most right now. We haven’t had to make any major changes thankfully," Phillips said.

The TPA is calling on anyone who can impact the well-being of pharmacy teams and the safe delivery of patient care to address these issues now.

"I wish it was as easy as just slapping a label on a bottle and getting a person out the door, but we’re often having to do with insurance claims with drug shortages right now have become an issue,” Phillips explained.

The group is asking to hear from pharmacists and techs about working conditions.

Phillips asks customers to be patient and to check the hours of their pharmacy before heading there.

A Walgreens spokesperson said in areas where current staffing is impacting any one store, they’ve adjusted pharmacy hours to provide relief. Walgreens and CVS also increased the starting hourly wage for techs and, in some cases, offer sign-on bonuses to pharmacists. They released full statements to NewsChannel 5:

"Our ongoing efforts since the onset of the pandemic have included an emphasis on how we recruit, retain, and reward our pharmacy staff. We have been increasing our hiring to support pharmacy operations and training, as well as remote and digitized pharmacy resources that aim to streamline processes so that pharmacists can spend more time with patients.

Additionally, we have added more shifts to support increased COVID-19 and testing needs. We have enhanced our technology and centralized many of our services to help reduce workloads in our pharmacies including the introduction of new workflows. In areas where our current staffing is impacting any one store, we’ve built continuity plans to ensure minimal disruption – adjusting pharmacy hours where needed -- to provide relief to pharmacy team members, while balancing customer demand. These advancements are initiatives we have been developing for years to empower our pharmacists to practice at the top of their license and provide enhanced patient consultations and care.

To further invest in our team members, in August we announced an increase of the starting hourly wage to $15.00 an hour. In May we gave a one-time bonus of $1000.00 to full time pharmacists and $700.00 to part-time pharmacists. And more recently in September we gave a one-time bonus of $1,250.00 to full-time pharmacists and a $1,000.00 one-time bonus to part-time pharmacists. As of October, all Pharmacy technicians now receive a starting salary of $15.00 an hour, to be increased to $16.00 an hour in 2022. New pharmacy technician hires also now receive a $1,250.00 signing bonus, received in two parts in their first month of employment and the second half at the one-year mark. We also have increased shift breaks for our team members to provide needed rest.

Our pharmacy and store hours are updated as needed on the store locator available through our app or at Walgreens.com/FindaStore.

We are grateful to our committed store team members who have shown tremendous dedication throughout the pandemic, and who are playing an integral role in providing much-needed access across thousands of communities nationwide. In the pharmacy, they have fulfilled even greater responsibility, whether its administering life-saving vaccines, or helping patients access prescriptions and COVID tests."

- Walgreens
"Patient safety is our highest priority, and decisions about staffing, labor hours, workflow process, technology enhancements and other operational factors are made to ensure we have appropriate levels of staffing and resources in place at each pharmacy for the safe and accurate filling of prescriptions. 

Our pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and nurses have been on the frontlines of the pandemic response, from administering COVID-19 tests to providing life-saving vaccinations.  We owe them a debt of gratitude, and have done everything possible to support the nearly 100,000 health care professionals who choose to serve their communities at CVS Pharmacy.

Our teams remain flexible in meeting customers’ needs in a dynamic environment that is part of a nationwide workforce shortage affecting nearly every industry and company.  Early in the pandemic we hired 10,000 pharmacy technicians to support these efforts. Through our recent virtual career event, we hired 23,000 new retail employees, including pharmacists, nurses and pharmacy technicians,  and are in the process of onboarding another 20,000 candidates.  

Also, in August we announced a significant investment in our employees by raising our minimum hourly wage to $15 an hour, with even higher starting hourly rates for certain roles including pharmacy technicians, effective July 2022."

- CVS