‘Stressful Across the Board': Pharmacists Contend With Omicron Surge, Increased Demand

The Connecticut Pharmacists Association says while pharmacists are working to maintain patient safety, they are dealing with a stressful situation across the board as COVID numbers surge.

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Jason Navallil has worked in pharmacies for the last decade. He has never seen it this busy.

"I absolutely feel like I have not left the pharmacy in the last few weeks," said Navallil, a pharmacist at Nutmeg Pharmacy in New London.

The Omicron surge has made for a busy month at the pharmacy. Demand is high right now for COVID-19 testing and booster shots.

Navallil estimates that the pandemic has increased their workload by 200%.

"We thrive in it. I think we just have to do the best we can. Keep a smile on our face and keep everyone happy, but absolutely the work has increased and it definitely adds another layer of stress," said Navallil.

Nutmeg Pharmacy in New London joins pharmacies across the state that are dealing with an increased demand and heavy workload.

Keith Lyke owns Killingworth Family Pharmacy. In his 30-year career, he has never seen the demand like this.

"It is definitely quite different. The dynamics changed a lot," said Lyke.

The Connecticut Pharmacists Association represents 6,000 pharmacy worker across the state. They report that pharmacists are dealing with a stressful situation across the board.

"Pharmacists and technicians have been real heroes throughout the pandemic. They were one part of the healthcare system that never shut down," said Nathan Tinker, CEO of the association. "Nearly two years in and we are seeing the impact is a lot of tiredness and stress."

The association keeps track of a well-being index for pharmacists in Connecticut, measuring things like quality of life and fatigue. Tinker said that they saw that index spike during the pandemic, especially at times when pharmacists and pharmacist technicians were tasked with a lot more work than they had been.

"It's difficult, but it's not surprising at the same time and it's not unique to pharmacists either," said Tinker.

This comes at the same time that a tight labor market is also impacting pharmacies nationwide. A survey done in the spring by the National Community Pharmacists Association found that 80% of independent community pharmacists were having a difficult time filling open positions. 90% can't find pharmacy technicians.

"While yes there is strain, there is tension, there is also a determination to maintain that high level of patient safety," said Tinker, adding that some pharmacies in Connecticut have changed the way they operate or updated hours as they work to keep up with the demand.

Navallil said his team is fortunate because they only recently opened their location in April. They are still building a customer base for prescriptions, which helps free up time to handle the increased demand for testing and booster shots.

"We would never want to let that stress level get too high to where it alters and affects our work. That is really important," said Navallil.

As pharmacists continue to see high demand for their services, they say people can help by showing patience.

"There have been bigger demands placed on all of us and we will work through it as best we can to be accurate and help you to the best of our ability," said Lyke.

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