Oct 19, 2021 - COVID

Des Moines pharmacy staff shortages lead to long waits and closures

Closed signs at the Ingersoll Walgreens
Signs posted at the Ingersoll Walgreens showing the store's closed from Oct. 15-17. Photo: Linh Ta/Axios

Some Walgreens pharmacies around the Des Moines metro are reducing their hours or closing altogether on weekends.

  • When I tried to pick up my prescription at the Ingersoll location the other day, I was met with a "closed" sign during normal business hours.

Why it matters: Customers in the city and nationwide are waiting longer to pick up their prescriptions and sometimes for more than a day.

  • Local experts say it's a sign of the burnout pharmacy staff may be feeling.

State of play: Pharmacists and technicians are taking on more duties than ever before as they help administer COVID-19 vaccines and tests on top of everyday duties.

  • The demand shows no sign of slowing down as people come in for booster shots and soon, pediatric vaccinations, said Lindsey Ludwig, executive director of local pharmacy network CPESN.

Meanwhile, burnout has become a real issue, said Democratic lawmaker John Forbes, who also owns Urbandale's Medicap Pharmacy.

  • A pharmacist from a local chain told him she had 800 prescriptions to fill in one day — a high amount for a store with low staff.
  • High-stress working conditions are particularly consequential for pharmacists, who must accurately fulfill prescriptions. He suspects some who planned to retire went ahead and did so earlier than planned.

Between the lines: Finding additional pharmacists is hard because the job requires extensive education and licensing.

  • Technicians, who can administer vaccines, will be key to loosening the bottleneck in Iowa. The pay rate is between $14-$20 an hour, but stores will need to raise that 10-20% to entice new people into the industry, Forbes said.
  • Both Ludwig and Forbes said staffing shortages have been less of an issue for independent pharmacies, who have more flexibility in hours and pay.

What they're saying: A Walgreens spokesperson said the company is trying to hire technicians across the country.

  • They're increasing starting pay to $15 an hour and are offering a $1,250 sign-on bonus.

The bottom line: Be patient, Forbes said.

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