Impact on patients unclear as retail pharmacists begin 3-day 'Pharmageddon'
The nationwide walkout is slated to continue through Wednesday. It's the latest attempt by pharmacists to pressure chains to address concerns about staffing they say lead to burnout and mistakes.
Retail drugstore chains Monday reported minimal disruptions during the first of a three-day planned walkout of many pharmacists protesting staffing levels and other working conditions.
The nationwide walkout, called “Pharmageddon” by organizers, is slated to continue through Wednesday at Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid and other businesses.
The impact of the walkout on pharmacy services was unclear after the first day.
Organizers estimated that as many as 4,500 pharmacists and techs participated Monday.
Walgreens said only two of its nearly 9,000 pharmacies had issues and CVS said the company had no unusual activities, according to reports.
However, former pharmacist Shane Jerominski, who helped organize the walkout through his Facebook group “The Accidental Pharmacist,” has received posts from members claiming a number of pharmacies were forced to close, cut hours or halt duties such as vaccinations.
The walkouts were planned to pressure retailers to address concerns about staffing shortages that are leading to mistakes that could endanger patients.
The staffing issues have been exacerbated by added responsibilities such as providing flu, COVID-19 and pneumonia vaccinations and COVID testing. Wages remain a concern, and drug shortages have kept pharmacy workers on the phone more.
The American Pharmacists Association, which boasts about 62,000 members, has given its support to the movement. In an online post Monday, association CEO Michael D. Hogue expressed concern about burnout in the profession and quotas given to pharmacists, including the number of prescriptions filled.
“Drugstore supervisors who are not pharmacists do not understand the needs of care teams and make unreasonable demands on time-based productivity,” he wrote.
“[They] simply fail to recognize that the pharmacist–patient relationship is not transactional. It is a special covenant — and supervisors who distill everything down to numbers and time metrics are destroying that relationship in the name of profitability. This must stop immediately.”
This is the third planned pharmacists’ walkout in recent months. In September, at least a dozen CVS stores had to shut down in the Kansas City area because nonunion pharmacists walked off the job. The same scenario played out two weeks later at Walgreens locations in Arizona, Washington, Massachusetts, Oregon and other states.
At the time, a CVS spokeswoman said the company is focused on addressing concerns raised by its pharmacists and has taken several actions, including “providing additional pharmacy resources” in markets that need support.
A Walgreens spokesperson said the company understands “the immense pressures" and is “listening to the concerns.” Former Walgreens CEO Rosalind Brewer said in late June that the company added more than 1,000 pharmacists in the second quarter but was running into a shortage of job candidates.
The walkouts come as Rite Aid, one of the country's largest pharmacy chains, has filed for bankruptcy. The company is billions in debt amid declining sales and more than a 1,000 federal, state and local lawsuits claiming it filled hundreds of thousands of illegal opioid prescriptions.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.