Pharmacy workforce shortage leads to reduced pharmacy hours and longer waits

Earlier this month, Jennifer Kappes scheduled her COVID-19 recall at the Meridian and 16th Street Walgreens. When the geriatric care manager arrived for her appointment, she found the store open, but the pharmacy closed.

A sign said the pharmacy hadn’t been open for two days, but it should be at 9 a.m. that day. At 9 a.m. long ago, Kappes gave up and left, eventually going to a Carmel pharmacy for his recall.

“I was in shock,” said the Butler-Tarkington resident. “You hear about restaurants and stores and all the rest of the staff, but it really woke me up when I saw that there was a closed pharmacy.”

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Across the country, pharmacy customers wait longer for their medications to be refilled or pharmacy staff are unavailable when they get their flu shots or recalls. Just as labor shortages plague other industries, pharmacies are struggling to keep up with demand.

Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians across the country are being asked to do more than ever. They are now performing COVID-19 tests and administering COVID-19 vaccines in addition to whatever they are supposed to do.

“We need to make as many prescriptions as possible in one day while doing vaccines and testing,” said Veronica Vernon, president-elect of the Indiana Pharmacists Association and assistant professor of pharmacy practice at Butler University.

All demands increase the workload of pharmacists and lead to the same exhaustion as in other areas of health such as nursing. The more people who leave, the more the workload for those who stay and the greater the stress.

Staff problems plague pharmacies

Managers of large drugstore chains recognize that they are feeling the effects.

Some local stores are adjusting their hours. When that happens, customers are directed to the nearest Walgreens, said Fraser Engerman, the company’s senior director of external relations. The store also created a new position, Pharmacy Operations Manager, to oversee pharmacy technicians and non-clinical tasks, allowing pharmacists to focus more on patients.

“Walgreens is constantly reviewing staffing levels, as we have done throughout the pandemic,” Engerman said in an email. “In communities where staff shortages have impacted our stores, we have adjusted continuity plans with the goal of creating minimal disruption for our customers and patients. “

CVS recently embarked on a hiring wave, filling 25,000 jobs nationwide, including 475 in Indiana, spokesman Charlie Rice-Minoso said in an email. Some of these hires had to file existing open positions.

Since the company launched its national hiring initiative in September, CVS has hired 20,000 pharmacists, technicians and storefront employees. Another 20,000 candidates have received job offers or have started the onboarding process with CVS, he said.

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“We recognize the tight retail job market which can lead to staffing issues,” Rice-Minoso said, adding that because CVS has hundreds of locations across the state, it can make sure it has the appropriate resources in each pharmacy.

Companies have also increased wages in an attempt to recruit and retain employees. CVS and Walgreens have both raised their minimum wages to $ 15.

Walgreens is offering new pharmacy technicians a sign-up bonus of $ 1,250 through the end of October, Engerman said. In September, full-time pharmacists received a bonus of $ 1,250. Pharmacy technicians who are certified to administer vaccines will receive a bonus of $ 1,000 over a six month retention period.

Big chains have tried to pivot by hiring extra staff and paying them more, but there’s little they can do, said Mike Johnston, CEO and founder of the National Pharmacy Technicians Association.

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“There is no supply available to meet demand at the moment,” he said. “The situation we’re in right now, there isn’t enough money you can spend on this problem.”

In the absence of quick fixes, many people find pharmacies closed and longer waits for services.

The Powers family both lived at the Walgreens in their Glendale neighborhood. A few weeks ago, Amanda Powers dropped off an antibiotic prescription for her husband at 9:30 a.m.

Typically, prescriptions take about an hour. This time the family waited all day for the order to be filled.

A real annoyance arose over the weekend when Powers made an online appointment to get the flu shot for herself and her five-year-old daughter. When they got to the store, the pharmacy was closed. They ended up making an appointment at the community clinic a few hours later and returned later that day for their injections.

“It was pretty awkward,” said Powers, who has a newborn baby at home, which kept her from straying from the house. “There was no sign or anything.”

Why the problem can be worse in Indiana

On Monday, December 23, 2013, floodwaters blocked access to one side of the Walgreens parking lot near the intersection of Emerson Way and 56th Street Water Ridge in Indianapolis along the Fall Creek Corridor after heavy rain and snowmelt.

The problem may be even more acute in Indiana than in some other states.

Pharmacies that recently hired pharmacy technicians in training may face delays in processing background checks and training licenses for new hires, Vernon said. A pharmacist told him the hold-up had passed eight weeks. Frustrated workers can give up.

The state also requires pharmacy technicians to go through a certification process that involves training and an exam, all good requirements, Vernon said, but which can make it more difficult to enter the field.

In addition, Indiana is home to a number of large specialty pharmacies, such as Accredo and Amazon, which deliver medications to doctors ‘offices and patients’ homes.

These businesses compete with community pharmacies for staff. As the community pharmacy has become more stressful with long hours and weekend and evening shifts, some in the profession may opt for these jobs instead, Vernon said.

“We find that pharmacists want to go into a different field. They are looking for something slower, ”she said. “Having the ability to have a personal life is important because we are all very exhausted.”

What the future holds

An archive photo of a CVS location.

The shortage also extends to new members of the pharmaceutical profession, the students. Students at Butler University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences spend a significant portion of their studies rotating in the community.

As one of the Butler professors tasked with helping organize these internships, Meghan Bodenberg has seen how the pharmacy profession is changing as she reaches out to potential mentors to hire students.

“It’s something that’s generally a challenge for us, but it’s certainly been more of a challenge this year than any other,” said Bodenberg, director of advanced experiential education and preceptor development. “Everyone has to try to do more with less and there are definitely vacancies. “

Butler has tweaked his curriculum in an effort to alleviate some of the pressure and plans to train all of his freshmen on how to administer vaccines, Bodenberg said. Previously, students could learn to administer vaccines as an optional course, but not all students chose to do so. Now they are all going to learn this skill.

While pharmacy technicians don’t need to go through such extensive training, it’s also unrealistic to think that one can quickly increase the number of people entering the profession, Johnston said.

“This is definitely something that is being looked into now…. Opening the funnel – it certainly takes time,” said Johnston. “I think we all have to keep in mind that we are all doing our best here and that we are showing a little compassion and understanding. “

Contact IndyStar reporter Shari Rudavsky at [email protected] Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter: @srudavsky.

Contact IndyStar reporter Alexandria Burris at [email protected] or call 317-617-2690. Follow her on Twitter: @allyburris.

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