The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

Walkouts in pharmacies across the nation; GR could be next

GVL / Sam Nelson

Nearly two dozen CVS locations in Kansas City, Mo. shut down their pharmacies unexpectedly due to staff walkouts on Sept. 21 and 22. Widespread reports from all over the country show that CVS pharmacies are short-staffed and employees have been forced to work under unsafe conditions, which could cause more pharmaceutical shutdowns, and even in Grand Rapids.

According to USA Today, the final straw for the Missouri walkouts was when a manager was fired due to his refusal to force his pharmacists to close their pharmacies to help other short-staffed locations in need of help.

“That was the catalyst for something that needed to happen for a long time,” an unnamed pharmacist said to USA Today. 

There are various reports claiming understaffing of pharmacies has been an issue for quite some time. According to NPR, CVS planned to cut hours at thousands of pharmacies while staff were making complaints that they were already low on staff. 

Even as the demand for prescriptions and vaccines grow, CVS continues to cut back on staffing, including less time for technicians to assist pharmacists and putting patients at risk according to several protest accounts published in the Kansas City Star. Similar reports have popped up across the country with walkouts and protests in Ohio, Virginia and Oklahoma. 

“Severe understaffing at CVS stores seems to have contributed to weeks-long waits to fill prescriptions, lack of proper controls over narcotics, expired and adulterated drugs not being removed from shelves, prescriptions being improperly dispensed and other problems,” according to Ohio Capital-Journal

One CVS store in Ohio reported a patient being harmed and the loss of almost 2,000 doses of controlled drugs. The same Ohio Capital-Journal article stated from April 2021 to June 2022, the store reported losses of lorazepam, diazepam (Valium), tramadol, alprazolam and zolpidem tartrate (Ambien). 

This store also had an incident in which a patient who was prescribed ropinirole, a drug used to treat restless leg syndrome, Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses, was given the incorrect medication. The bottle the patient received actually contained digoxin (a drug used to treat heart issues). Even after switching to the correct medication and discontinuing the use of digoxin, the patient’s problems did not go away. 

“The dispensing software permitted the medication to be verified without scanning the bottle or alerting the pharmacist the standard safety procedure may or may not have been completed,” according to a report by the Ohio Board of Pharmacy. 

According to the Virginia Mercury, a Virginia Beach CVS location experienced multiple instances of patients being harmed due to understaffing and an intense workload. There was a patient who received 100 extra doses of Percocet, a patient who received a medication that they had a known allergy to and a patient who was given incorrect instructions on how to administer their medication. 

“At the CVS in Virginia Beach, a state inspector reviewed 200 hardcopy prescriptions and found 74 mistakes — an error rate of roughly 37 percent. In at least two cases, pharmacists dispensed medications at multiple times over the prescribed dosage, including cyclobenzaprine, a muscle relaxant, and dexamethasone, an anti-inflammatory drug that’s been used to treat COVID-19 patients,” according to the article. 

According to a 2020 New York Times article, Oklahoma state regulators fined CVS $125,000 due to the same staffing and prescriptive issues that have affected the pharmacies in other states. $75,000 worth of this fine is due to a specific incident in which a patient was given a much smaller amount of his medication than prescribed, and it caused his seizures to persist. 

“As part of its agreement on Wednesday, CVS will pay a $75,000 fine for that incident — the highest amount allowed under state law for this case — and its Owasso pharmacy will remain on probation for two years. While pleased the board had addressed the matter, the boy’s parents said they were worried that the action was not strong enough and that it could allow other patients to be harmed in the future unless CVS made substantial changes to its business,” according to the article. 

These staffing issues are not limited to CVS either; Walgreens has experienced the same problems. A recent post on Reddit called Walgreens to stage their own protests, gaining popularity with nearly 500 shares.

“In national and state surveys, retail pharmacists working for large chains including CVS and Walgreens have complained that low staffing levels, combined with the rising pressure of corporate performance metrics, push a dwindling number of workers to handle an ever-increasing number of prescriptions, vaccinations and other tasks daily,” writes Emily Le Co for USA Today

An unnamed Grand Valley State University student, who is also a Walgreens pharmacy employee, said these issues are normal and expected in most retail pharmacies and that the stress of these environments has impacted people’s health. Walgreens’ employee disclosure agreement restricts employees from disclosing internal proceedings, so this source has requested to remain anonymous.

“We are constantly being overworked and our expectations are rising each month. I know of a young technician who was experiencing chest pain, sweaty hands and frequent headaches while at work,” the GVSU student said. “When he went to the doctor for help he was diagnosed with a general anxiety disorder, which was caused by the high-stress work environment in the pharmacy. He left the pharmacy shortly after.”

GVL / Sam Nelson
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