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Staffing shortage causes intermittent closures at Walgreens pharmacies

Patients in Durango say they have struggled to access vital medications
The Walgreens Pharmacy located in Durango Town Plaza has had to reduce its hours after staff members left and the company could not fill vacant positions, a former pharmacy technician said. (Reuben Schafir/Durango Herald)
Mar 21, 2023
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Chelsea Johnston was in the throes of postpartum depression, so she decided to make things easier on herself by having her prescription for antidepressants delivered.

A week after she placed an order on the Walgreens app, her prescription status was still marked as “processing,” so she placed a new order for pickup at the north Walgreens location in Durango. Later that day, she received a notice that her second order had been canceled.

A month has now passed since she placed the first order, and Johnston has not received her medication. And she is not alone. Dozens of Walgreens patients in the Durango area have voiced complaints that their prescription refills are delayed for weeks or that erratic hours have made it difficult to access critically important medications.

“It was a very necessary prescription,” Johnston said. “It was alarming that it just wasn't taken very seriously and I was given no follow up.”

Kris Lathan, a spokeswoman for Walgreens, said the company has struggled to keep its pharmacies properly staffed across the country as a result of a nationwide pharmacist shortage. Lathan did not answer specific questions regarding staffing at the company’s Durango locations.

“For more than a year, these staffing challenges have impacted retailers, healthcare entities and countless other industries,” Lathan said in a boiler plate statement emailed to The Durango Herald. “We’ve continued to take proactive steps to address staffing needs, including hiring thousands of pharmacists and other team members, increasing compensation and other measures to reduce workload while creating a differentiated working environment.”

In October, the company announced it would no longer evaluate its pharmacy staff with task-based metrics and was boosting staff pay. A notice posted at the pharmacy at Durango’s Town Plaza location advertised a $1,250 signing bonus for pharmacy technicians and online job postings offer bonuses for other positions as well.

Walgreens Pharmacy is advertising a sign-on bonus at its Town Plaza location in Durango. (Reuben Schafir/Durango Herald)

In an email from Walgreens Western Slope District Manager Donald Lee to a disgruntled patient, Lee wrote that new pharmacy managers would be in place by April 3.

Still, pharmacy staff say burnout is rampant and patients are noticing an impact.

“The huge pharmacy corporations (CVS and Walgreens) have created an environment that is not sustainable for pharmacists and technicians to safely serve patients,” said Sarah Penny, a former pharmacist, in an email to the Herald. “They are expected to staff a pharmacy for 12+ hours with maybe one or two people to: ring up patients (both at the counter and drive through), answer phones (calls from patients, insurance and physicians), take new prescriptions from patients (which includes at least two different verification steps, inputting the prescription, filling the prescription, shelving, inventory management, inputting vaccines, giving vaccines, counseling patients and so on.”

A former Walgreens pharmacy technician, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, confirmed the conditions Penny described have been the driving cause of staff turnover and pharmacy closures in Durango. The former technician said the number of personnel has steadily decreased over the last two years as pharmacists departed for greener pastures.

“The remaining pharmacist and pharmacy manager ended up splitting the hours that 3-4 pharmacists would normally cover,” the former technician said. “Due to this lower coverage, the south location (had to cut back hours). This continued for a while and even more strain was applied when the remaining staff pharmacist was continuously asked to work at the north Walgreens and the Walgreens in Cortez.”

The pharmacy at the Town Plaza (south) Walgreens location used to be open seven days a week; it is currently open Monday though Friday and closes at 6 p.m., rather than at 9 p.m., as it used to do.

The Walgreens pharmacies in Durango have reduced their hours in response to staffing shortages. Patients have reported finding the pharmacies closed for days on end, making it difficult to obtain vital medications. (Reuben Schafir/Durango Herald)

“Walgreens management failed to keep enough pharmacists staffed to lessen the strain on the pharmacists they had employed and did not make changes even when they (the staff) made complaints,” the former employee said.

Although the pharmacist shortage is a national problem, patients in Durango say they have had much better experiences when they transfer prescriptions to other pharmacies in town. A spokesperson for City Market confirmed that the supermarket chain’s pharmacies in Durango have remained consistently open.

It takes about eight years of undergraduate and graduate school to become a pharmacist. Active recruiting efforts for lower level positions are offering on-the-job paid training to try and attract candidates. In the meantime, patients and former staff report that Walgreens has been shuffling staff around the state in an effort to cover staffing gaps.

But to patients who rely on pharmacies for critical medications, the stopgaps are not enough.

One patient provided the Herald with an email notifying her that a prescription was ready to be picked up at the north location – but it said the location was closed, with no listed date or time of reopening.

“A pharmacy, for a lot of people including myself, is a lifeline,” said Jerry Fields, another patient who relies on Walgreens pharmacies for his life maintenance medications.

Although it appears to be in a constant state of flux, patients can check the status of a Walgreens pharmacy on the company’s website.

rschafir@durangoherald.com

This story has been updated to include a statement from a City Market spokesperson.



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