CVS and Walgreens Strikes Are Leaving Pharmacies Empty
Walkouts forced several locations across the country to temporarily close.
News about some of the biggest pharmacies has dominated headlines, with Rite Aid declaring bankruptcy this week and confirming plans to shutter over 150 stores. Rite Aid isn't alone in its struggles, however, as both CVS and Walgreens are also closing stores, leaving many people with decreased access to necessary medications. But even locations that are technically still "open" have been forced to shutter due to striking staffers. Read on to find out why CVS and Walgreens pharmacists are walking out.
Several pharmacies were forced to temporarily close over the last month.
Pharmacy employees have walked out over the past several weeks, citing pressure from heavier workloads, decreased hours, and inadequate staffing levels, The Guardian reported.
Between Sept. 21 and 22, 12 CVS locations in Kansas City, Missouri, closed their doors due to strikes, with the same thing happening between Oct. 9 and 11 at Walgreens stores across the U.S. As Best Life previously reported, Walgreens locations were temporarily shuttered in Arizona, Washington, Massachusetts, and Oregon. At this time, it's unclear if and when additional walkouts will be staged.
However, The Guardian spoke with several pharmacists who noted ongoing stress—and while many cited the addition of new healthcare services as a pain point, staffing concerns are apparently nothing new.
"This has been a decades-long issue, but it's really been compounded and exacerbated since the pandemic," a CVS pharmacist in California, who also asked to remain anonymous due to retaliation fears, told the newspaper. "With these added services, there hasn't been any added staffing to support the services, and there's been a reduction in staffing—so more work, less workers to do it … It's all the ingredients for a prescription medication error to happen."
Pharmacists' errors can have life-threatening consequences.
According to The Guardian, mistakes can be seriously dangerous if patients are given the wrong medication. The outlet pointed to a situation earlier this month, where a patient at a CVS in Las Vegas was given the incorrect prescription, leading to the loss of an in vitro fertilization. According to data from the National Library of Medicine, 7,000 to 9,000 people in the U.S. die due to medication errors every year.
In Ohio, specifically, the state's Board of Pharmacy found multiple issues tied back to understaffing at CVS locations—including missing controlled substances. Despite these concerning situations, CVS brought in $4.1 billion in profits last year, The Guardian reported.
In a statement to the outlet, CVS voiced its commitment to providing quality healthcare to patients and communities, noting that the company is "working with our pharmacists to directly address any concerns they may have."
The company continued, "We're focused on developing a sustainable, scalable action plan to support both our pharmacists and our customers, that can be put in place in markets where support may be needed so we can continue delivering the high-quality care our patients depend on."
Best Life reached out to CVS for comment, and will update the story with its response.
Walgreens says it is "listening to the concerns" brought up by staff.
Mistakes have been reported at Walgreens, too. Speaking with the Associated Press earlier this month, a Walgreens pharmacy manager who helped organize the walkouts cited issues with staffing and workload.
"It's led to upset customers," the organizer told AP anonymously. "It's led to medication errors, vaccination errors, needle sticks."
For its part, Walgreens stressed that only a few pharmacies experienced disruptions earlier this month and said it is also committed to working with pharmacists.
"The last few years have required an unprecedented effort from our team members, and we share their pride in this work—while recognizing it has been a very challenging time," the company said in a statement previously provided to Best Life. "We also understand the immense pressures felt across the U.S. in retail pharmacy right now."
The company continued, "We are engaged and listening to the concerns raised by some of our team members. We are committed to ensuring that our entire pharmacy team has the support and resources necessary to continue to provide the best care to our patients while taking care of their own wellbeing. We are making significant investments in pharmacist wages and hiring bonuses to attract/retain talent."
Pharmacists say they just want to do their job safely.
The anonymous California pharmacist stressed that pharmacists aren't asking for more pay or perks, telling The Guardian that they need "more staffing, so that they can do the job that they are hired to do, which is help patients and maintain safety. And right now, they can't do that safely."
Shane Jeromski, a pharmacist in California who previously worked at CVS and Walgreens, also told the outlet that there should be national standards for pharmacy workers and their workloads. (He also started a GoFundMe page to support union organization and as a resource for those who lost income during the walkouts.)
"A lot of technicians and pharmacists are being exploited by these companies by the level of work they have to do. They're not asking for more pay. They're asking for more help," Jeromski told The Guardian. "The American public needs to understand how dangerous this is for them to fill their prescriptions in an environment that is unsafe, no matter how good our healthcare system is in America."