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Understaffing at some CVS pharmacies in Virginia has put patients at risk, former employees say

The findings, which covered a single CVS store, resulted in a $427,000 fine for the chain and...
The findings, which covered a single CVS store, resulted in a $427,000 fine for the chain and one unannounced inspection within the next 12 months.(Rogelio V. Solis | AP)
Published: Oct. 11, 2021 at 8:47 AM EDT
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Over the last two years, employees at a CVS Pharmacy in Virginia Beach have raised repeated concerns over patient safety.

At one point, multiple pharmacy technicians told a state inspector that a pharmacist at the store had mistakenly given a patient a hundred extra doses of Percocet — a powerful prescription opioid. Another customer received an antibiotic despite a known history of not tolerating the drug and was taken to the emergency room after an allergic reaction.

In another instance, a patient received the right medication with the wrong instructions, according to another pharmacy tech, who said the oral cholesterol drug came with directions to insert the pills vaginally.

The root of the errors, employees said, was chronic understaffing and an unsustainable workload that made it impossible for pharmacists and technicians to focus on their jobs.

“The pharmacists cannot properly concentrate because they have so much to do,” said Kristopher Ratliff, a member of Virginia’s Board of Pharmacy, reading from a more than 600-page investigative report produced by state regulators.

“A staff pharmacist stated hours had been cut to the point where she didn’t know how the pharmacy was supposed to function,” added Mykl Egan, the board’s discipline case manager, reading from the report. “A fourth pharmacist described the pharmacy as a ‘sweatshop.’”

The findings, which covered a single CVS store, resulted in a $427,000 fine for the chain and one unannounced inspection within the next 12 months. CVS “respectfully disagree[s]” with the board’s order, according to spokesman Mike DeAngelis, and is “considering our options” for potential next steps.

But news of the investigation came as no surprise to former CVS employees in Virginia, who said working conditions were so bad that they had affected their mental and physical health. Nor were the problems contained to a single store, according to two former pharmacists, who worked in multiple locations across the state and heard similar concerns from other staff members.

“The sheer number of people who go home and cry because of the pressures they’re under — it’s unbelievable,” said Michelle Harmon, a former CVS pharmacist in the Hampton Roads region who’s still part of a Facebook group for mothers in the industry. “You’re so mentally drained you don’t have time for your family. I was just existing — going to work, coming home, doing whatever I could to hit the numbers so my patients were taken care of.”

Safety and staffing issues at national pharmacy chains have become a growing issue for state regulators both in Virginia and across the country. A 2020 investigation by The New York Times found that at least two dozen states have received multiple complaints from pharmacists and physicians worried that chain pharmacy policies are undercutting patient care.

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.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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