the Future of Pharmacy: CVS Pharmacists in Kansas City Unite to Transform Working Conditions

TechWizard Feature: CVS Pharmacists Stage Kansas City Walkout Over Working Conditions

CVS Pharmacists Stage Kansas City Walkout Over Working Conditions

Nearly two dozen pharmacists at the nation’s largest retail pharmacy chain staged a walkout in the Kansas City metro area this week over working conditions they say put CVS Health pharmacists and patients at risk. The walkout began Thursday and continued into Friday. Organizers said they had shuttered numerous pharmacies across the metro area, which covers a portion of eastern Kansas and western Missouri. Some pharmacies outside the metro area also have joined. They estimated at least 22 locations had closed.

While the group’s specific complaints focus on store staffing and quotas, the walkout reflects a rising outcry from pharmacists at several national pharmacy chains. They say their work requirements leave them unable to safely fill and verify prescriptions, putting patients at risk of serious harm or even death.

“Pharmacists all over the nation have talked about, joked about, wanted to, wished that we could do things like this,” one of the walkout organizers told USA TODAY. “I know the pharmacists in this district – a lot of us have worked together for a long time, and we just decided we’ve had enough.”

The pharmacists involved in the walkout agreed to speak on the condition that they not be named, out of fear of retaliation, as company policy bars them from speaking to the media. They said they initiated the walkout after a Kansas City-based manager was fired. His firing, they claim, came because he refused to force pharmacists to close their own stores on the weekends so they could pitch in at other short-staffed locations. “That was the catalyst for something that needed to happen for a long time,” one pharmacist told USA TODAY.

Amy Thibault, a CVS communications director, did not acknowledge the walkout or address the organizers’ allegations when contacted by USA TODAY. “A small number of CVS Pharmacy locations in the Kansas City area are closed today due to unexpected staffing issues,” Thibault said in a written statement. “We’re making adjustments and plan to reopen as soon as possible.”

For years, retail pharmacists working for large chains like CVS and Walgreens have complained about staffing levels combined with rising pressure of corporate performance metrics, which they say push a dwindling number of workers to handle an ever-increasing number of prescriptions, vaccinations, and other tasks daily. That pressure intensified during the pandemic, when pharmacists also were required to administer back-to-back COVID-19 tests and vaccinations.

National and state-by-state surveys in recent years have reiterated those complaints. Sixty percent of pharmacists surveyed in Missouri in 2019 said they felt “pressured or intimidated to meet standards or metrics that may interfere with safe patient care at my practice site.” Many said they didn’t have enough time to safely and effectively do their job.

More than half of pharmacists polled by the Kansas Board of Pharmacy in 2022 said they didn’t feel they could perform their jobs safely; the biggest reasons cited were a lack of appropriate staffing and employer-imposed quotas.

Pharmacists in other states voiced similar concerns. In California, for example, 91% of chain pharmacists surveyed by the state Board of Pharmacy in 2021 said they lacked the staff needed to ensure adequate patient care.

“Right now we do not feel safe in the workplace,” another Kansas City pharmacist told USA TODAY. That pharmacist said her only desire for the walkout is to see CVS provide respectful working conditions where pharmacists have the time, resources, and staffing levels to safely fill prescriptions and counsel patients. “The workload is so heavy and the amount of staff they allot us is so low that I’m unable to go to the bathroom during my 10-hour shift,” she said. “I can’t physically walk away from the line of people or the backlog of prescriptions. I’m expected to fill all these prescriptions by myself and counsel all these patients by myself…