Pharmacy Times To learn more about the results of an NCPA survey that found more than three-quarters of community pharmacists are struggling to fill open positions on staff, PharmD, MBA, interviewed Douglas Hoey, CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA). .
Alana Hippensteele: Hi, I’m Alana Hippensteele Pharmacy Times. Joining me is Douglas Hoey, PharmD, MBA, CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association, or NCPA, to discuss the results of a recent survey showing that more than three-quarters of community pharmacists are struggling with open fills. positions in their staff.
So Doug, what did the survey reveal about the current staffing challenges facing many community pharmacists today?
B. Douglas Hoey: Well Alana, great to be here. I think the survey showed what many of our members told us and felt and quantified those things. As you mentioned, almost three-quarters are experiencing some kind of labor shortage, especially with technicians, front-line workers, but also pharmacists. I think this is coupled with the demand for pharmaceutical services, which is greater than ever before. So we have this huge demand and at the same time a lack of people to do it.
Alana Hippensteele: What are the unfulfilled consequences of such widespread staffing gaps?
B. Douglas Hoey: There are a lot of ripple effects when our members don’t have the staff they need to care for patients in a timely manner. One of the things we’ve seen in a few pharmacies is that they’ve had to reduce their hours a bit. Anecdotally, what we see when it comes to independents is much, much, less serious than what we hear about mega-chains. But we have a number of members who say, “Hey, I’m not going to open on Sunday, or if I’m normally open until, say, 7, I’m going to close at 7” hours. I have heard this from a number of members and our survey supports some of these actions. Other things are that our owner members and their pharmacy teams are working harder and longer hours than in the past. One of the characteristics of independent community pharmacies is that our members will take care of that patient until the very last one. We will not close the door to someone when they come to look. And so, in many cases, the owner himself, he works longer hours. I hear more about burnout and ‘man, I’m tired’ in the last few years than I have in my entire career.
Alana Hippensteele: Right. What are some of the potential causes of community pharmacy staffing and recruitment challenges based on survey results?
B. Douglas Hoey: The survey results don’t necessarily ask why, so we have to speculate a bit. I speculate – part of that speculation is the workforce pressures that other sectors in the industry or around the world have seen, there’s been huge retirements. A number of pharmacy technicians and salespeople have retired or may want to reduce their hours. Also, during the pandemic – well, the pandemic is still going on – but when the pandemic is really at its peak, the reluctance of workers to be face-to-face with others. It had some effect. I think there is a growing trend of retail jobs not only in pharmaceuticals, but also in other sectors as the consumer becomes less desirable. We can speculate, are consumers, their behavior is more biased or more unacceptable? Or is there something else where there are other things that keep these people away? But our members, like other industries, are having a harder time attracting workers.
Alana Hippensteele: Right. What about the NCPA? Does the association have additional information on some of the reasons for this staffing shortage, as well as some of the ongoing recruitment issues? What could be the source of this?
B. Douglas Hoey: Yes, also some of the reasons, so the pharmacy technician, they do not have to be certified, but they are useful when. So there is training, and they have to be trained in any way – whether they’re certified or not – to help the pharmacist do their job. So I wouldn’t call it a huge barrier to entry, but there are certain criteria for entry. You can’t just walk off the street and suddenly become a pharmacy technician. There are some teachings. And this is somewhat true with some of the front positions as well. There is certainly some training that is unique to community pharmacies. It’s different from working in a grocery store or a fast food place, especially in an independent pharmacy, where patient contact, patient contact is very important, whereas in some other settings it’s not as important. Some of these, again, I don’t want to use the term barriers to entry, but it’s at least a barrier to entry. We also see from some of our members, from a salary or wage perspective, that there is wage pressure to either pay higher wages or adjust compensation in some way. So all these pressures kind of add up. The thing is, whether it’s a restaurant, a grocery store, or any other retail industry, the pressure is the same. They’re all trying to attract the same pool of workers, and right now there are plenty of workers to go around.
Alana Hippensteele: Right. How might this staffing shortage affect community pharmacy closings, a trend that threatens community pharmacies throughout the pandemic?
B. Douglas Hoey: Yes, the closure problem, we see it a lot in chains. We’ve heard a lot with chains, we’ve heard from our members calling and saying that chain XYZ just put up a sign and said “we’re closed this weekend.” Sorry patients, do what you can or drive 25 miles to the next town to get your prescription where that pharmacy is crowded and has no access. We’ve heard that many of our members, typical of independent community pharmacists, are trying to do everything they can to serve that patient, calling the doctor, trying to get a new prescription, trying to transfer the patient, which is almost impossible. some of these chains will not respond to faxes or electronic inquiries as they cannot be reached. Closures are a problem.
Part of the problem is the economy. We’re seeing some of these prescriptions move to independent pharmacies, they’re staying open longer and longer and they’re able to keep some of their staff, a lot of their staff. But because of the typically terrible reimbursement of PBMs, just because they’re filling more prescriptions doesn’t mean they’re doing better economically. Now on my own, I fill more prescriptions, but I fill prescriptions for terrible reimbursement. what am i doing This patient needs to be served, but I am losing money by serving this patient. I think it’s going to come to a point in the industry where pharmacies are going to say I can’t serve this patient and I’m going to continue to lose money or go out of business. And that patient will find himself in no man’s land. They will not be able to get a prescription. I think the industry will have to see some changes from payers when this is over.
Alana Hippensteele: That’s right, definitely. Walgreens has announced multi-million dollar investments in pharmacy staff over the past year to support pharmacist retention. How might this financial investment in a large retail pharmacy chain affect community pharmacies looking to tackle the same problem?
B. Douglas Hoey: I have no knowledge of Walgreens, their financial situation other than what is publicly available and what I have heard from members. When we hear concerns from our members, it’s usually about Walgreens. This is number one, listed due to lack of staff. These are anecdotal, so I don’t have them quantitatively. But number one, by far, is Walgreens. I’m not surprised by the recent news that they are now offering bonuses, incentives, whatever they are doing, they need to attract more people. I think it could have a ripple effect, but I also think that a number of pharmacists will look not just at Walgreens, but at the working conditions at the big chains, and those are pretty well documented. I mean, you can go on social media, you can Google some of the concerns about working conditions at the big chains. Some of the quantitative surveys that have been conducted show that pharmacist-only relationships have actually declined over the past 5 years, especially at these large chains. I think there is a lot of work to be done there. Financial incentives will attract some people. But at some point, it’s the quality of life that has to change. And again, economic conditions often cause business to affect quality of life. So with economic conditions, something has to change, and that’s not news to everyone in independent community pharmacies.
Alana Hippensteele: Right. What is your vision for the future of community pharmacies?
B. Douglas Hoey: This is very bullish. One of the factors leading to this, and I think one of the driving factors of this shortage of workers, I think it’s important that we consider that the demand for pharmacist services has never been higher. People are accepting, consumers are slowly accepting pharmacists to fill some of the primary care gaps that our health care system needs, starting with immunizations, and increasingly, consumers are buying flu shots. But then with COVID, patients voted with their feet. Two-thirds of all consumers said they would like to receive a COVID shot at a pharmacy from a pharmacist or someone from their pharmacy team. Opportunities to fill some of these primary care gaps, whether it’s vaccines, point-of-care testing, other public health needs, PEP and PrEP, contraception, smoking cessation, the list goes on. It’s never been bigger. There are some growing pains right now to balance labor with pharmaceutical demand. Again, not to be redundant, but to have the economics to balance paying for these services. So it makes sense for a pharmacist to be able to provide those services and hire staff. Still, the demand for services is an amazing advance for the profession. The economy has to catch up, and when the economy catches up, I think the workforce will quickly catch up.