Plague-Pandemic Burnout and Stress Leads to Shortage of Pharmacy Staffs

A sign outside a CVS pharmacy Dec. 2 in Indianapolis. Staff shortages and a rush of vaccination-seeking customers are squeezing drugstores around the country. That has led to frazzled workers and even temporary pharmacy closures. (Tom Murphy / AP file)

Heidi Strehl worked as a pharmacy technician at a Rite Aid in the Pittsburgh suburbs for more than 16 years. She loved her customers, enjoyed her job and thought of her co-workers as family. But this fall, Strehl abruptly quit, walking out in the middle of a shift — one of many in a wave of pharmacy technicians who are doing the same.

Working in a pharmacy was always fast-paced, Strehl said, but in recent years the workload and stress had increased to unsustainable levels, while staffing and pay failed to keep up. During the coronavirus pandemic, the pace quickened further, especially once pharmacies began giving COVID-19 vaccine shots. Her store regularly ran behind on prescriptions, often with several hundred waiting to be filled each morning.

Pharmacy technicians work behind the counter, counting pills, helping pharmacists fill prescriptions, taking phone calls and ringing patients up, with some even giving vaccinations. They are low-wage workers in positions that don’t require college degrees, yet are vital to the health care system.

“Being consistently overworked, underpaid, stressed out and behind, there’s room for way too many mistakes,” said Bella Brandon, a pharmacy technician who quit her job at a CVS in Ohio because she was so concerned about the potential for a deadly medication error.

In recent months, many technicians have quit, saying they’re being asked to do too much for too little pay, increasing the possibility that they will fill prescriptions improperly. Employers, meanwhile, are struggling to replace them, representing yet another of the labor shortages that have gripped the country this year.

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SOURCE: NBC News, Adiel Kaplan, Samantha Springer and Vicky Nguyen

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