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'Expanding more but getting paid less' | Pharmacies struggle with staffing and costs

Pharmacy wait times are getting longer and longer throughout the U.S., but some pharmacists say that's not necessarily biggest issue that these facilities face.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — During the height of the pandemic, pharmacists faced many challenges. Since that time, some of those problems have even increased.

Trip Crews is a pharmacy student and intern who has been on rotation working at multiple pharmacies throughout the region. 

Crews said that they wait times at pharmacies are getting longer and longer, but the that biggest issues he’s seen is staffing. 

"A lot of pharmacies are having trouble with staffing in the sense that especially with techs," Crews said.

Techs fulfill positions assisting pharmacists but can only carry out certain duties. 

"You’re allowed two uncertified techs per pharmacist or four certified techs per one pharmacist," Crews said. "They waived that during the pandemic and now they are reinstating that." 

This return to form has put more work on employees. 

"You are vaccinating people for flu, for COVID, filling prescriptions," Crews said. "You’re requiring more and more help to maintain the pharmacy as a whole." 

Having to perform more duties sometimes weigh down on morale. 

“That increases pharmacist/tech burnout, so you’re seeing a lot of turn over as well,” said Crews.

Most can’t work overtime. 

“Let’s say something were to happen and a script was filled wrong or something were to happen—there’s a liability associated with that,” Crews said.

The other issue is costs. Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBM) are the go-between for pharmaceutical manufacturers and insurance companies. Part of their job is managing the processing and pay for drug claims. 

"Right now, pharmacy benefit managers are paying pharmacies less," Crews said. "That difference is either made up in a sense where the patient either has to pay more or the pharmacy gets paid less money. If I went from making a dollar on prescriptions to making $.50 on a prescription, I have to fill twice as many prescriptions."

Many community pharmacies are actually having to sell other items such as toys just to make up for the loss in income. 

“Our role is expanding, but we’re expanding a role in a category where we’re getting paid less,” Crews said. 

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