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$50K Bonus? Demand High for Druggists

3 min read

National chains are searching for pharmacists in Arkansas, with one offering a $50,000 signing bonus and another reducing store hours because of a shortage of workers.

“I don’t think it’s industrywide,” said John Vinson, CEO of the Arkansas Pharmacists Association.

“Certain companies have not been able to recruit and retain pharmacists for whatever reason,” Vinson said. “I wouldn’t call it a labor shortage as much as I would call it a complex, unstable situation in retail pharmacy and the community pharmacy sector.”

CVS Pharmacy Inc. of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, is dangling a $50,000 sign-on bonus in an effort to recruit pharmacists to its stores in Arkansas. A CVS spokesperson didn’t return a call seeking comment.

A Walgreens spokesperson told Arkansas Business last week that it is seeing what other health care providers have been experiencing with labor shortages tied to the demand for COVID-related services.

“As a result, there are some instances in which we’ve had to adjust or reduce pharmacy operating hours, as we work to balance staffing and resources in the market to meet the needs of our customers and patients,” the spokesperson said via email, on the condition that they remain anonymous.

The reduction in pharmacy hours at Walgreens has resulted in patients complaining to the Arkansas State Board of Pharmacy about not getting their prescriptions in a timely manner.

In a discussion with the board in February, Walgreens said it has seen some of its pharmacists leave the profession because of the stress tied to the pandemic.

“There’s been a lot going on in pharmacies these days,” Lynn Stover, a Walgreens regional vice president who covers Arkansas, told the State Board of Pharmacy at the meeting. “We’re not only filling prescriptions, but we’re trying to vaccinate for COVID, and then we’re also trying to be a big force in testing as well.”

Stover and other Walgreens officials appeared in a Zoom meeting to discuss complaints from patients.

In addition to pharmacists quitting, pharmacists and staff were calling in sick. “We’ve had more employees sick the first two weeks of January than we saw the entire month of December,” Stover said.

The change of operating hours began in August, and Walgreens reduced hours in 43 of its 73 stores in Arkansas.

John Clay Kirtley, the board’s executive director, said at the February meeting that state law requires that stores have to be open 40 hours a week and some Walgreens locations weren’t. “You have advertised hours that you are not open and at times you have gone below the statutory requirement for 40 hours a week,” he said.

The Walgreens locations that reduced their hours posted signs and directed customers to its closest open store, Brad Lawson, a Walgreens’ area health care supervisor, said during the meeting.

“What a lot of this boils down to is that we’ve had a lot of attrition,” he said. “I’m so proud of the role that we played in the pandemic in answering that call that our profession received, but it’s taken its toll.”

The underlying issues in the pharmacy profession are driving some of the labor shortages, said University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ College of Pharmacy Dean Cindy Stowe.

“There’s not an effective payment model for pharmacy services, both dispensing and the direct patient care services,” she said.

Stowe also said the working conditions at some pharmacies have resulted in high turnover rates, while other pharmacies don’t have openings.

The new pharmacy graduates aren’t settling for poor working conditions when other companies are offering better ones, she said. “They draw the line and they don’t walk over it,” Stowe said.

As a result, some pharmacies are offering improved conditions such as closing the pharmacy for 30 minutes so the pharmacist and the staff can have lunch. “From the time I graduated from pharmacy school, people laughed at you when you said, ‘When do I have time to go to the bathroom?’” said Stowe, who received her doctor of pharmacy degree from the University of Kentucky in 1991.

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