health care

Pharmacies Are not Immune to the Worker Shortage

A Walgreens in Torrington closed over the weekend and reduced its hours because it only has one pharmacist and a shortage of techs, according to an employee.

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"I came in Friday around 5:30, 6 o’clock and there was nobody here,” said Norman MacKinnon of Torrington. “My prescription was called in Thursday.  I came back Friday and they were closed early.  I came yesterday and they said it would be done this morning.  They’re doing it now.”

Desirae Sarasin said her mother has a broken rod in her back.  She said her pain pills, morphine and hydrocodone were supposed to be filled at the Torrington Walgreens on North Elm Street last Wednesday. 

“We couldn’t get a hold of any pharmacist - we tried calling multiple occasions, no one ever picked up the phone,” Sarasin recalled.

A Walgreens employee told NBC Connecticut that the store had to reduce its hours and close last Saturday and Sunday because it is down to just one pharmacist after the pharmacy’s manager left for another job.  The pharmacy reopened Monday to many people waiting to pick up prescriptions both inside and in the drive-thru.

“There’s a very long line to get your prescription, probably about 12 deep,” said Mark Wall of Torrington.

The American Pharmacists Association said pharmacists have given out 163-million Covid vaccines, but they still have prescriptions to fill and consultations to make.  The burden is bogging many pharmacies down.

“There’s a lot of stress and burnout right now in the profession.  There are a lot of shortages among various stores across the country and that just creates additional stress for those pharmacists that are still working in the pharmacies,” said Anne Burns, the vice president of professional affairs for the American Pharmacists Association.

There are 6,000 registered pharmacists in Connecticut, but according to the state’s department of labor there are 237 job postings for pharmacists in Connecticut right now.

“I think that also extends to the pharmacy technicians as well.  They’re a great resource and needed resource as part of the pharmacy workforce,” said Aaron Burton, the head of the University of Saint Joseph’s School of Pharmacy.

Dr. Nathan Tinker, head of the Connecticut Pharmacists Association agreed that the larger shortage is in the lower-paid positions within the pharmacy such as the pharmacy techs and other support staff who may bear the brunt of the stress.

However, Tinker said he doesn’t see a shortage but an opportunity.

 “Covid has really shown the value of pharmacists and pharmacy in the community and it has driven health care in that directory and communities in that direction,” said Tinker.  Pharmacists and pharmacies are the closest health care providers to most people in the United States.  They’re more available, their hours are longer, and they can provide a wide range of services.”

Sarasin said that because her mother needed narcotics, Walgreens told her it was unable to transfer her prescription to another pharmacy.  Instead, her doctor had to write an emergency prescription to another pharmacy after days of waiting.

“People who have medication are on it for a reason. They need it to survive.  They need it to live. You can’t have just no pharmacist and then not let your customers know,” said Sarasin.

NBC Connecticut reached out to Walgreens’ corporate office Monday and Tuesday, but the company did not respond to our inquiries. 

Meanwhile, several customers of a Rite Aid pharmacy in Cheshire posted on social media about a similar situation.

The company told NBC Connecticut “Like most pharmacies and retailers, Rite Aid is experiencing some staffing challenges in different regions, including in Connecticut. As a result, one of our Rite Aid stores in Cheshire, CT, briefly operated on reduced hours to accommodate staffing, and we currently do not expect any further reduced hours in the near future.”

Walgreens in partnership with Connecticut Department of Labor will host a hiring event on December 1 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Hamden. According to a post, Walgreens is looking to fill leadership (key holder), pharmacy technician & customer service associate positions across the state.

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