FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) – COVID-19 has put pressure on corporate and independently owned pharmacies.
“The perfect storm. A global pandemic, increased workloads, labor shortages and it is happening in Arkansas, not just in the nation,” says CEO of the Arkansas Pharmacy Association, John Vinson.
He says when it comes to Walgreens specifically, it’s prompted more sporadic store closings than he’s ever seen.
“It is very unusual; I’ve never seen what we’ve seen over the last six months,” says Vinson.
Unexpected closings which have caused some Arkansans to not be able to get necessary medications in a timely manner and promoted The Arkansas State Board of Pharmacy to get involved.
“I’ve been here 17 years. I’ve never seen sporadic closures like this for any length of time. I understand COVID is difficult, but the situation we’re dealing with specifically with Walgreens is different than the situation we’re having with anyone else,” says John Clay Kirtley, executive director of the Arkansas State Board of Pharmacy.
Walgreens Regional Vice President, Dr. Lynn Stover, says losing staffing to COVID-19 outbreaks or having them leave the business altogether has been the most significant issues on their end.
“If you look across the entire state, we reduced hours in 43 of our 73 stores to help mitigate the issue,” says Dr. Stover.
A statement we received from Walgreens Pharmacy says, “there have been instances in which we’ve had to adjust operating hours or temporarily close certain stores. When this occurs, we make every effort to minimize disruption for our patients and customers.”
State law mandates pharmacy locations must be open at least 40 hours a week. Dr. Kirtley says, in many instances, this benchmark has not been met by several Walgreens locations, creating issues for patients trying to pick up medication or other pharmacies trying to get in contact with them to transfer prescriptions in a timely manner.
“When patients need antibiotic therapy, need medications for COVID therapy, we don’t have a couple of days to access that pharmacy for information. We need that information as soon as possible,” says Breanna Neumann with Collier Drug.
Beyond adjusting store hours and outsourcing some of its COVID-19 duties to third parties, Walgreen states it’s working to onboard new pharmacy team members.
It’s something Vinson admits can be no easy task.
“Salaries have been stagnant, hours have been cut, making the profession less attractive in recent years to make people apply for school or get into the profession,” says Vinson.
But in the meantime of recruiting pharmacists, the Arkansas Pharmacist Association Advises pharmacies to take a number of different steps.
“To reduce hours, to not take on new roles and responsibility until they can meet the needs safely and effectively, to meet the needs for not only their current patients but also their employees,” says Vinson.