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Independent pharmacies not as affected by national staffing shortages

Published: Nov. 3, 2021 at 8:10 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Depending on the type of pharmacy you go to, you may have noticed higher wait times or staffing shortages.

If you ask some local pharmacies or even regional ones like Kinney Drugs, they will tell you they are busy but that it isn’t totally unmanageable. But as an industry, there are definitely struggles making their way to the front of the line.

“We want to help our community the best way we can, and the best way we do that is make sure everyone back here is respected and well taken care of,” said Ryan Quinn with Lakeside Pharmacy in Burlington.

He says they aren’t unaware of the issues in the industry, they are just insulated from it.

“It was ever ramping just the more and more and more that needed to be asked, and it reached, it’s been reaching a breaking point,” Quinn said.

He speaks from experience. Before his job at Lakeside, he worked for one of the national pharmacy chains just a few months ago.

“There wasn’t enough support for these pharmacists to do their job effectively,” said Quinn.

“There does seem to be quite a difference between national chains and our local independent pharmacies,” said Lauren Bode, the interim director of the Vermont Pharmacists Association.

She says the problems depend on where you’re looking and that local and regional pharmacies are less likely to have shortages.

“It does appear that the larger national chains are struggling to recruit and retain pharmacists right now,” Bode said.

Walgreens denied our request for an interview. But according to a workplace study survey done by the Vermont Pharmacists Association in 2020, national chain pharmacists report about 50% of respondents are scheduled for shifts of more than 10 hours and work before and after their shift to finish assigned work. Only 30% get any sort of break while working.

“After a while, pharmacists, like anyone else, are going to be looking for conditions and companies that are going to support their dignity and respect their ability as professionals,” Bode said.

She says part of this comes with the trade, but the struggles have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Kinney Pharmacists we spoke to say they have been lucky so far. They say they only know of one store with a shortage in Vermont, but that when the profession undergoes changes, they feel it.

“I feel very empathetic toward them. I feel very sad that they have had to move on and maybe try to find something else,” said Kinney’s Haley Hooks.

She says pharmacists are some of the most accessible members of health care, so to see instability or unhappiness in the profession isn’t an isolated issue, it impacts them all.

“When we have these circumstances that are prevailing out there that are not enabling us to do what we want to do and what we are passionate about, it’s terrible,” Hooks said.

All the pharmacists we talked with say there is no one single solution but that changes need to come from within the industry.

Bode wanted to remind folks that patience is key because working a little slower can definitely mean safer, and safety can’t be compromised.

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