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Frustrations mounting over ‘life and death’ valley pharmacy staff shortages, closures

Frustrations are mounting as staffing shortages at local pharmacies are causing closures and delays in customers' prescriptions getting filled.

Some pharmacy locations have signs posted of unexpected closures or abrupt schedule changes and delays.

"It's very frustrating and you can tell just visiting any pharmacy in town," Greg Begin said. "There's shortages stock delays nationwide on all sorts of items everything but when you start messing with people's drugs, that's life and death."

News Channel 3 heard from customers about long lines and wait times at pharmacies across the valley. One location in Palm Springs reportedly is relying on traveling pharmacists – customers there say a few days each week, it's fully closed.

Donna Myrow depends on thyroid medication to survive. She said she hit frightening roadblocks getting her prescription filled recently.

"We're in a crisis," she said. "The metal covering in all the drug stores is down and there's no one to ask... I went out to my car and I started to cry because I know I need these pills."

In a statement to News Channel 3, CVS Pharmacy said in part:

“Patient safety is our highest priority, and decisions … are made to ensure we have appropriate levels of staffing and resources in place at each pharmacy for the safe and accurate filling of prescriptions.”

Walgreens wrote in part:

"…the ongoing labor shortage combined with the surge of COVID-19 cases has resulted in isolated instances in which we’ve had to adjust operating hours or temporarily close a limited number of stores.…We make every effort to minimize disruption for our customers. We select days with the lowest prescription demand, ensure that there is a nearby pharmacy to meet any immediate prescription needs and provide patients as much advanced notice as possible…”

News Channel 3 reached out to Rite-Aid but did not get a response.

CVS FULL STATEMENT:

Our pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and nurses have been on the frontlines of the pandemic response, from administering COVID-19 tests to providing life-saving vaccinations. We owe them a debt of gratitude, and have done everything possible to support the nearly 100,000 health care professionals who choose to serve their communities at CVS Pharmacy. 

Our teams remain flexible in meeting customers’ needs in a dynamic environment that is part of a nationwide workforce shortage affecting nearly every industry and company. Early in the pandemic we hired 10,000 pharmacy technicians to support these efforts. Through our recent virtual career event, we hired 23,000 new retail employees, including pharmacists, nurses and pharmacy technicians, and are onboarding another 20,000 candidates.  

At thousands of our stores offering COVID-19 vaccines, we operate dedicated vaccination clinics with a separate team of pharmacists and health professionals who are administering vaccines exclusively and are not filling prescriptions or counseling patients. We continue to activate dedicated clinics at additional locations. 

At pharmacies without dedicated clinics, we’ve adjusted workflows, processes and vaccine scheduling to provide pharmacists and other vaccinators with predictability and structure for their day-to-day activities. Also, while our pharmacists have always had the ability to take breaks, we’ve begun the process of adding a prescheduled daily break time to create a predictable and consistent daily pause while minimizing disruption to our patients. These prescheduled daily break times are being phased into our pharmacy locations on a rolling basis.  

Patient safety is our highest priority, and decisions about staffing, labor hours, workflow process, technology enhancements and other operational factors are made to ensure we have appropriate levels of staffing and resources in place at each pharmacy for the safe and accurate filling of prescriptions.

WALGREENS FULL STATEMENT:

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to drive a significant increase in positive cases in communities across the nation. While the vast majority of our stores are open and operating with normal business hours, the ongoing labor shortage combined with the surge of COVID-19 cases has resulted in isolated instances in which we’ve had to adjust operating hours or temporarily close a limited number of stores.  

When making the difficult decision to adjust store hours, we make every effort to minimize disruption for our customers. We select days with the lowest prescription demand, ensure that there is a nearby pharmacy to meet any immediate prescription needs and provide patients as much advanced notice as possible through signage, automated phone calls and adjustments in refills.  

In the event we need to temporarily close a store, we direct some pharmacy services to the nearest Walgreens. Customers can also call 1-800-Walgreens for their prescription needs or can use our pharmacist chat option, which is available 24/7 on our app or online.

This latest COVID-19 surge is placing a significant strain on several industries in the short-term and driving demand for services and products unlike anything seen before. We’re going through this with our communities and remain committed to providing the support needed to get past this surge. Our pharmacy team members continue to provide testing services, vaccinations and antivirals to help all of us return to a sense of normalcy as soon as possible.

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Jake Ingrassia

Joining News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 as a reporter, Jake is excited to be launching his broadcasting career here in the desert. Learn more about Jake here.

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