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CVS issues apology for unsafe workplace claims; pharmacists plan second walkout

The pharmacy chain temporarily closed 22 stores in Kansas City last week

CVS has issued an apology after temporarily closing as many as 22 stores in Kansas City as pharmacists went through with a planned walkout protesting unsafe workplace claims, reports USA Today

The Kansas City CVS locations unexpectedly closed because the pharmacists in charge staged an organized walkout, calling in sick to protest recent corporate decisions.  

The initial closures and walkouts were earlier this week. Organizers are already planning a repeat walkout for Wednesday and are asking other pharmacists across the nation to join them, citing working conditions that imperil patient safety. 

“We’re committed to providing access to consistent, safe, high-quality health care to the patients and communities we serve. Our ability to serve patients in Kansas City was not impacted today and we are not seeing any abnormal activity in other markets,” Amy Thibault, lead director of external communications for CVS Pharmacy, told SN

“We always seek to work with our pharmacists to directly address any concerns they may have – and have been meeting with teams in the Kansas City market this week. We want our pharmacy teams to be able to succeed, which is why we’ve taken several actions to support our local teams including providing additional pharmacy resources to support stores that may be at capacity, providing additional support for filling open positions, and increasing staffing levels,” Thibault added.

CVS executives traveled to Kansas City to try and avert the scenario. The executives met with pharmacists and staff at several metro area locations and issued a memo from Prem Shah, CVS’ chief pharmacy officer and president of pharmacy and consumer wellness, apologizing for failing to address their concerns sooner.  

CVS executives also met with walkout organizers late Tuesday, both sides confirmed to USA Today

In the memo, Shah promised a series of measures to alleviate concerns. Some of those steps included providing “additional resources” to stores, adjusting appointments, filling open positions, and removing unnecessary tasks for pharmacists.

“With the currently unprecedented demand for vaccinations from our patients in mind, we are taking a series of actions effective immediately,” Shah said in the memo.

However, specific requests made by the Kansas City pharmacists were not identified, and the impact of the anticipated second walkout in Kansas City and potentially across the nation is unknown. The chain operates over 9,000 locations nationwide. 

National and state surveys show retail pharmacists who work for large chains including CVS and Walgreens have complained about low staffing levels, combined with rising pressure of corporate performance metrics, according to reporting from USA Today

“We recognize that there’s an industry-wide shortage of health care providers – including pharmacists – and that this is a busy time of year due to the high customer demand for seasonal vaccinations. We’re focused on addressing the concerns raised by our pharmacists so we can continue to deliver the high-quality care our patients depend on,” said Thibault.

The low staffing causes a number of workers to handle an increasing number of prescriptions, vaccinations, and other tasks, which also increases the risk of pharmacist errors, the surveys say.  

Michael DeAngelis, CVS’ executive director of corporate communications, said an industry-wide shortage of pharmacists has made it difficult to appropriately staff the chain’s more than 9,000 pharmacies throughout the nation, which was exacerbated by the stress caused by shortages and surging demand for immunizations. 

Shah wrote in the memo that he will stay in Kansas City until needs are met and will return each month until there’s a sustainable action plan for the region, also urging pharmacists to have an open line of communication with the company and leadership.

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