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Employees Claim Pharmacy Errors are Due to Understaffing

— March 5, 2020

Pharmacy employees claim they were forced to remove vital information from a company presentation.

Despite what pharmacy employees told investigators in 2019 when a high rate of prescription errors were detected, consultants from Tata Consultancy Services presented their findings telling a completely different story.  The employees reported they were under a lot of stress and unable to complete their job error free.  And, yet, senior management had directed the consultants to remove some damaging findings after seeing a draft of their presentation, equipped with a review of internal emails, chat logs, and two versions of the report.

Amy Bixler, the director of pharmacy and retail operations at Walgreens, told them to “delete a bullet point that mentioned how employees sometimes skirted or completely ignored” proper procedures in order to meet performance expectations.  A slide detailing “errors resulting from stress” was also removed from the presentation.

Pharmacists in dozens of states have accused Walgreens, CVS, and other major drugstore chains of putting the public at risk of medication errors because of understaffed, busy workplaces.  In letters to state pharmacy boards and media interviews, pharmacists said they tried to keep up with an increasing number of tasks while struggling to meet corporate performance metrics.  The pharmacists admitted in these interviews that the expectations put on them were unsafe.  And yet, responds to staff complaints indicate pharmacy coverage was sufficient and errors were rare.

Employees Claim Pharmacy Errors are Due to Understaffing
Photo by Nathaniel Yeo on Unsplash

The consultants’ report stated there was “a widespread perception that there is not enough time to respond to all pharmacy tasks.”  In the deleted slide, the consultants wrote, “We were told that pill bottles had been found to contain more than one medication.”  They said they “heard multiple reports of improper behavior” that was “largely attributed to the desire” to meet a corporate metric known as “promise time, which ensures that patients get prescriptions filled within a set amount of time.”

The final presentation was delivered at Walgreen’s corporate campus in Deerfield, Illinois.  A Walgreens spokesperson, Jim Cohn, said the Tata “had been helping the company get a better understanding of how employees used the computer system.”  The draft report, he said, included “information gathered through informal engagement with staff at a handful of stores.” Changes reflected in the final version were intended “to help ensure that the report appropriately focused on the most relevant aspects of the technology and user experience,” he said, adding, “Walgreens took any concerns seriously to ensure the appropriate parties are aware and working to address them.”

CVS has also refuted employee complaints.  In a statement posted on its website last month, CVS said, “We fundamentally disagree with the recent assertion in The New York Times that patient safety is at risk in America’s pharmacies.”

Pharmacist Moms, which says it represents 32,000 female pharmacists, responded to the staffing and metric complaints by posting a letter on its website and social media accounts that said, “We feel strongly that patient safety may be compromised due to the overly stressful working conditions at chain pharmacies.”  Founder Suzanne Soliman said in the letter, “Pharmacists work in difficult and demanding conditions and are often unable to voice concerns over patient safety.”


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