DES MOINES, Iowa — The Iowa Pharmacy Association’s (IPA) annual expo is back in Des Moines Friday through Sunday. One topic on the agenda is shortages at major pharmacy chains across the state and country forcing them to cut back hours.

Emmeline Paintsil, the IPA’s Director of Professional Affairs, said it’s not simply an overall supply shortage of pharmacists. There are enough pharmacists and pharmacy students to meet current and future needs but they don’t want to work at certain major chains.

She said pharmacists throughout the industry say they’ve been overworked due to staffing shortages predating the pandemic at major chains. That’s caused many to leave, exacerbating the problem. They’re going to local independent pharmacies where they feel they can get more support.

Paintsil adds, when pharmacists are overworked, they’re more likely to make potentially deadly mistakes.

“Some pharmacy chains have not provided adequate staffing levels for pharmacists to keep up with the demands for in terms of prescriptions and immunizations provided, which is what has led to pharmacists leaving due to not wanting to put patients at risk or at harm,” she said. “Our job as pharmacists is to provide high-quality safe effective use of medications, and when pharmacists feel like they are being put in situations that harm patients, they’re more likely to remove themselves for risk of harming the patient.”

Paintsil said solutions include better reporting mechanisms for poor working conditions. The biggest fix would be large chain pharmacies hiring more pharmacists and pharmacy techs to reduce stress and workloads on those who are already working there.

WHO 13 reached out to Walgreens and CVS for comment on the story. CVS has not provided one.

Walgreens sent us this statement Friday morning:

We have been rapidly hiring thousands of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians since late 2020 across our nearly 9,000 stores. Like many healthcare providers across the country we are seeing a greater demand for health-related services coinciding with staffing challenges. To help increase staffing levels and retain pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, we have taken various actions to increase compensation, alleviate workload and enhance the workplace experience.  These on-going efforts include:

  • Providing various incentives and bonuses for team members since March 2020 such as:  
    • On-going phased increases in wages for Pharmacists
    • $15 per hour starting wages for our hourly team members with pharmacy technician pay moving to $16.50 per hour last fall
    • Increasing pharmacy student scholarships to attract new pharmacists
    • Providing more resources for training and onboarding of new pharmacy team members
  • Shortening pharmacy hours to give our teams breaks.
  • Engaging team members directly to listen to their needs and respond to requests for additional support. 
  • Created a new pharmacy operations manager position to take additional pressure off of our pharmacy managers. 
  • Implemented new technologies to ensure routine tasks are automated, predicted and streamlined so that pharmacists can spend their time speaking with and counseling patients and providing them valuable healthcare services such as vaccinations, diagnostic testing and medication management.
  • Expanded micro-fulfillment to serve several regions of the country, where prescriptions are filled at a central location and sent back to the patient’s local Walgreens for pick up at the pharmacy counter.
  • Provide remote pharmacy support for data entry, clinical review and data review in select stores to also free-up our pharmacists and technicians.