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Staffing shortages at major chain pharmacies create high demand for local pharmacies

Whether it is long wait times, unfilled prescriptions or canceled vaccine appointments, patients are finding themselves switching to local pharmacies for assistance.

BOISE, Idaho — The surge in Omicron cases is impacting staffing shortages at big-chain pharmacies in the Treasure Valley.

Whether it is long wait times, unfilled prescriptions, or canceled COVID-19 vaccine appointments, patients are finding themselves switching to local pharmacies for assistance.

"The place that I go to, they were out of stock of the medication, so I had to do some juggling to speak with my doctor’s office as well as my pharmacy,” Yeti Abides, who typically uses the Walgreens pharmacy on Broadway, told KTVB.

Abides said he saw the backlog first hand when visiting the pharmacy and was impressed by pharmacists' transparency about their situation in being understaffed.

"They also explained that they were two days behind at that time," Abides said. "I also called thinking they were still open during their regular time, but they also let me know that they adjusted their hours because of staffing as well."

Longer wait times, cancellations and backlogs are flooding major pharmacies like Walgreens, CVS, and Albertson’s.

CVS and Walgreens issued statements to KTVB in response to the shortages:

Walgreens:

"We've reduced operating hours in some locations, where staffing has been impacted the most. In the rare occurrence where we experience last-minute emergency closures due to staffing that impacts patient appointments, we conduct outreach to notify patients and work to get them rescheduled if they would like.”

CVS Pharmacy:

“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 for the safe and accurate filling of prescriptions.”

In response to the issues, many Idahoans are switching to local pharmacies to avoid the headache.

"The larger pharmacies are having a significant spillover to some of the smaller pharmacies, because people are figuring out that we are still able to accommodate their needs in a timely manner,” Matthew Murray, Director of Operations at Customedica said.

According to Murray, the influx of transferring patients still does not avoid problems with trying to fill some prescriptions at local pharmacies.

"Even when people want to transfer prescriptions to us, it use to be a really easy process and lately it's taking hours, to a day, or days to even get those transfers fulfilled,” Murray said.

According to Ryan Fuchs, a Pharmacist at Medasync Pharmacy, when trying to get prescriptions transferred for new patients from pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens, wait times can be hours or even days long.

"Some of those bigger chains, when we are trying to get prescriptions for people that have medications at different pharmacies, we have been on hold for hours at a time with no success,” Fuchs said. "So there's actually been a couple of times when we haven't been able to get a hold of them at all.”

According to Murray, his pharmacists run into issues when an existing prescription has been run through insurance, but not filled, at a patient's previous pharmacy.

"If that is already billed by another pharmacy, the insurance won’t let us send that claim to them and so we would have to call the other pharmacy and get that reversed through their system," Murray said. "Which if we can’t get a hold of them, that does cause a problem."

In those cases, Murray said, the only solution is paying out of pocket for medication and hoping to get reimbursed down the road.

While local pharmacies may not be feeling the staffing shortage pinch compared to chain pharmacies, that are experiencing high demand all at once.  

"Patience is key," Fuchs said. "A lot of time when patients get frustrated and they want more information, that can sometimes increase the amount of time it takes because it takes us away, pharmacists, technicians away from actually being able to fill the needs."

Murray also took the time to praise the pharmacists working in the big-chain companies, because he understands what they are going through with demand and shortages.

"I personally know a lot of pharmacists that work for the chains and they are all really good people and they are all doing their best to help the community," Murray said. "So, that's something for everyone to keep in mind, is everyone has their best interest, we are all working as hard as we can to help everybody."

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