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'They are exhausted' | Worker shortage putting strain on pharmacies

On top of filling prescriptions, pharmacists are now tasked with COVID-19 testing and vaccines.

INDIANAPOLIS — You might have noticed some changes at your pharmacy, like different hours or longer wait times. It’s an issue happening across the country as many pharmacies struggle to find workers and keep up with added responsibilities.  

Some started reducing hours and others are closing for the day. Several Hoosiers said it’s become difficult to pick up prescriptions. One man told 13News it took him six trips to pick up a prescription a few weeks ago.

“Just like the rest of health care, we are experiencing labor issues. We are experiencing pharmacist and technicians really being burnt out due to the pandemic,” said Dr. Veronica Vernon, president-elect of the Indiana Pharmacist Association and assistant professor at Butler University.  

She said staffing problems started before the pandemic.  

“It really worsened during the pandemic. The pandemic has just shown a bright spotlight on the issues,” Vernon said.  

On top of filling prescriptions, pharmacists are now tasked with COVID-19 testing and vaccines. At the end of October, more than two million COVID vaccines were given out by Indiana pharmacists, according to the IPA.

“They are exhausted. They are having to work seven, 12, 14 days in a row just to keep pharmacies open, because there just isn’t the staff to come in and relieve them,” Vernon said. “We haven’t seen an increase in staffing with these increased responsibilities in pharmacies.” 

The Indiana Pharmacist Association is trying to address the issue by working with organizations and companies to recruit more people. The association is also working with state lawmakers to make sure pharmacist and technicians can work at the full extent of their education and training.  

Credit: WTHR

Plus, IPA is looking into issues with pharmacy benefits managers that are putting a big squeeze on the industry. They want to work with leaders to come up with a better model. 

“When pharmacies are getting reduced payments on medications, the first thing to go is their staff, unfortunately,” Vernon said.  

For now, they are asking Hoosiers to be patient and understanding.

“Whether they are working in a community pharmacy or a hospital or other sectors, they really are heroes in this pandemic, just like our other healthcare providers,” Vernon said.