Consumer Alert: As another pharmacy closes, others struggle with staffing. Here’s why

Consumer Alert — Pharmacies are understaffed

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On Tuesday the Penfield Rite Aid closed its doors for good. It’s part of a troubling trend we’re seeing in the Rochester area and across the country. It’s just one of about a half dozen pharmacies that have closed in our area in just the last three years. And at the ones that are left you may have noticed the staff seems a little stressed out. That’s because across the country pharmacies are painfully understaffed.

Ultimately, that affects us, as consumers. Your pharmacist is the most accessible member of your healthcare team. And experts say that’s part of the problem. During the pandemic, we, as consumers, began relying on pharmacists much more. Consumers looked to them for everything from COVID shots to medication advice. And as more of us continue to use these services, there are fewer pharmacies to serve us.

I spoke to Dr. Christine Birnie, Dean of the Wegmans St. John Fisher School of Pharmacy, about another reason for the shortage of community pharmacists.

“Community pharmacy is what everybody thinks of when they think of pharmacists,” said Dr. Birnie. “But we also have a growing number of areas within pharmacy – managed care companies and insurance companies and specialty pharmacy, clinical pharmacy within the healthcare system, ambulatory care settings, academia research and on and on, So, the breadth of different opportunities has grown significantly over the last five to ten years.”

That means those graduating from a pharmacy program have a wealth of opportunities that may offer better pay, benefits and hours. And that has led to fewer community pharmacists.

So what can we do to assure we get the best care possible while hopefully being a part of the solution?

With the help of Dr. Birnie, here’s Deanna’s Do List.

• Help with efficiency by making an appointment to get several vaccines at the same time. And yes, it’s safe to get your flu and covid vaccines at once.
• Utilize employee wellness clinics for vaccines.
• Plan ahead for refills and schedule the refills for all your meds at the same time.
• Get to know your pharmacist by name so he or she knows you by name as well.
• Be kind. It goes a long way toward getting the best customer service in any setting.

Those last two are so important. Decades ago, I had more than one occasion when the advice of my pharmacist was crucial in my care. These days, it’s tougher to get to know your pharmacist because he or she is so busy. But it pays to make the effort. And that’s your Consumer Alert.