US Pharmacy Workers Strike Over Dangerous Workloads as CVS and Walgreens Take Profits | Healthcare industry

Healthcare industry

Pharmacists say increased workloads and cut hours are the perfect recipe for medication errors, which can be fatal

Pharmacists and support staff at some of the largest U.S. pharmacy chains say they are at a breakthrough moment: as companies take on more health care services, both staffing and Working hours are reduced, and the pressure is too great, some say.

Angered by increased workloads and cuts in working hours, workers quit.

Twelve CVS locations in the Kansas City, Missouri, area closed on September 21 and 22 following wildcat strikes organized by workers without union representation or support. Walgreens workers staged their own walkouts on October 9-11 at stores across the US, with closures confirmed in Oregon, Arizona, Washington and Massachusetts.

A CVS pharmacist in California, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation, said this has been a decades-long problem, but it has really become more complicated and severe since the pandemic. With these additional services, there are no additional personnel to support the services and the number of personnel is also reduced so more work, less workers to do it. These are all factors that lead to possible prescription medication errors.

The pharmacist is an organizer of the grassroots campaign PizzaIsNotWorking. The campaign, launched by Oklahoma pharmacist Bled Tanoe, aims to highlight the plight of pharmacists and refute the idea that employee morale-boosting measures like free pizza can overcome this situation.

Twelve CVS locations in the Kansas City, Missouri, area closed on September 21 and 22 after violent strikes. This CVS is in Boston. Photo: Michael Dwyer/AP

Prescribing errors can have serious consequences, even death. In early October, a patient at CVS in Las Vegas was given the wrong medication, leading to the termination of their in vitro fertilization process. About 100,000 prescribing errors are reported to the Food and Drug Administration every year, but those reports are voluntary. About 7,000 to 9,000 people in the US die each year due to medication errors.

California Pharmacists detailed the many tasks that employees at retail pharmacies must perform: filling long lines of prescriptions; handle phone calls with doctors, doctors’ offices, and insurance companies; drive past pharmacies that carry them; and increasingly dealing with vaccinations.

Pharmacists do not ask to pay more. They don’t ask for extra vacations. They are requesting additional staffing to be able to do the job they were hired for, which is to help patients and maintain patient safety. And right now, they can’t do that safely, pharmacists say.

The Ohio Board of Pharmacy recently identified multiple problems with severe understaffing at several CVS locations in the state, including shortages of controlled substances and prescription medication errors. Despite the understaffing issue, CVS still reported double-digit revenue growth in 2022 and profits of $4.1 billion.

According to the 2019 National Pharmacist Workforce Study, 71% of respondents reported high or extremely high workloads and job satisfaction at its lowest level in 20 years. The 2021 survey found that workers at pharmacies are so stressed that they cannot complete all tasks.

A former pharmacy intern at CVS in Arizona, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation from potential employers, explained that their store was consistently understaffed and their shifts were cut from eight to eight. hours down to six hours, with the same workload and no need for additional personnel.

The workload is constantly increasing but there is no increase in personnel. They say they add more to the disk without reducing the spread of the work, they add more to the workload, expect you to meet all the workload requirements and then don’t add more. Adding more staff and in some cases reducing working hours. It’s hard because if you make a mistake, you’re the one responsible, but they don’t listen to the fact that you’re working alone or working as fast as you can to try to accommodate everyone within your means. me.

They argued that the result of the complaints was being told to cut corners, such as marking unfinished tasks on the computer as completed so as not to be reprimanded.

They add that sometimes you just need to estimate the numbers because you don’t have enough time.

Andrea, who asked that her last name be omitted for fear of retaliation from potential employers, worked as a pharmacist at CVS in Arizona for three years but quit on October 1 due to severe staffing shortages.

Most of those days in the past few months, I arrived two hours early, worked 12-hour shifts and worked through my lunch break in crazy working conditions, she said.

As a pharmacist, she is paid as a salaried employee and receives no overtime pay. She said she’s had to take on an extra workload in recent months after experienced technicians left her shop and those positions weren’t replaced.

“We should not be in a professional state because that just causes this workload,” she said, which involves exempting pharmacists from overtime because they are salaried. There’s so much falling on us and insurance companies don’t want to make it easy. When I’m in conditions like this and forced to play games with an insurance company, which unfortunately puts me behind, I just fill in your script and get you out of there.

Shane Jeromski, a pharmacist in California who worked at CVS and Walgreens, noted that retail chains have added vaccination clinics to pharmacies, increasing revenue for retailers but not adding more personnel. He said pharmacy staff are becoming high-pressure perfume salespeople because they are required to provide many other services to customers. He said there should be national standards on staffing ratios for pharmacy staff and their workload.

Pharmacy technicians are underpaid relative to their skill level. They are the frontline workers who regularly interact with often dissatisfied patients when they visit the pharmacy. They get sick or there are so many things that can happen that are out of our control, it’s always like putting out a fire,” Jeromski said. Many technicians and pharmacists are being exploited by these companies because of the level of work they have to do. They don’t ask for extra payment. They are asking for more help.

Jeromski established a GoFundMe to support pharmacy workers who lost income due to the strikes and to support any union organizing efforts.

Walgreens workers staged walkouts on October 9-11 at stores across the US, including in Oregon, Arizona, Washington and Massachusetts. Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters

“The American public needs to understand how dangerous it is for them to fill prescriptions in an unsafe environment, no matter how good our health care system is in America,” Jeromski said.

A spokesperson for CVS did not provide specifics on how it plans to address pharmacists’ concerns, but said in an email: We are committed to providing access to the best healthcare consistent, safe, high quality for the patients and communities we serve and are working with our pharmacists to directly address any concerns they may have. We are focused on developing a sustainable, scalable action plan to support both pharmacists and our customers, which can be applied in markets where support may be needed so we can continue to provide the high quality care our patients depend on.

A Walgreens spokesperson said the disruption occurred in a small number of pharmacies and that the company is investing significantly in wages and bonuses to attract and retain workers.

The past few years have required unprecedented effort from our team members, and we share their pride in this work while acknowledging that these have been very challenging times. We also understand the tremendous pressures currently occurring across the United States on the retail pharmacy industry,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. We are engaging and listening to the concerns of some of our team members. We are committed to ensuring that our entire team of pharmacists have the support and resources they need to continue providing the best care to patients while also looking after their own health.

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