MINNESOTA, USA — The latest staffing shortage could impact anyone with a prescription. There's a wave of pharmacy technicians who are quitting across the country, citing an increasing work load that could put patient safety at risk.
Across the country, there are some 420,000 pharmacy technicians who make about $17 an hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
They're also doing the lion's share of what can be complex work, according to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, a nonprofit that represents state boards of pharmacies.
"They're finding a drug off the shelf, they're counting out the appropriate number of tablets or what have you, labeling it, bagging it and providing it to a pharmacist for final verification," said the NABP's Executive Director Al Carter.
Carter says the workload at community pharmacies also increased in the pandemic and now includes administering COVID-19 tests, immunizations and therapies.
"You're front and center to any and every person that walks through the door," said Carter. And with that, the potential for prescription error goes up with growing stress, the risk too much for some employees.
"Which is why you have the burnout and so many people walking away because they don't want to do harm," said Carter. "That isn't what they got into the profession for."
Meanwhile, the National Community of Pharmacists Association first identified the technician staffing shortage in the spring when a survey found 90% of respondents couldn't fill that job - a deficit that's also driving up benefits and doubling wages.
"I don't know, to be honest, if that's working," said Carter. "There's no amount of money that's going to change their decision to come back."
Some pharmacies are also decreasing workloads and adding worker protections, while an online campaign is raising money to create a union that Carter hopes isn't too little, too late.
"It's going to be very dark before it gets light," said Carter.
To guarantee you get your prescription, Carter says to call ahead. The staffing shortage is forcing some pharmacies to close or reduce hours. You can also always transfer to another one.
And don't wait until the last minute to fill your prescription. Insurance companies typically cover up to the last five days.
Employees can also submit their pharmacy workplace experiences anonymously to the American Pharmacists Association. They can be used to address workplace concerns and offer possible solutions.
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