SAN DIEGO - Facing the ongoing pharmacist shortage, Ahold USA is evaluating labor patterns and cutting hours at some pharmacies.
"The workforce shortage is real," said Gary Wirth, director of pharmacy professional services at the Braintree, Mass., company. "We went through and decreased hours of full-service operation in some of our pharmacies to alleviate the situation."
Wirth was among a number of presenters on the pharmacist shortage topic during the National Association of Chain Drug Stores Pharmacy and Technology Conference here late last month. They said the shortage is persisting and demographic figures show no immediate fix.
"Our operations department is always reviewing the performance of stores, such as how many hours are needed [for all employees] and pharmacist labor," Wirth told SN. "It is a constant process and with budgeting, it makes sense to re-evaluate each store on a fairly regular basis."
Although Wirth could not comment on the exact number of stores where this was needed, he pointed to an overall decrease in the number of full-time hours worked by pharmacists coupled with demand-driven wage increases as impacting retail pharmacy.
"Our cost to hire has increased," Wirth said. For example, he noted that there are pharmacists who put in enough full-time hours for their primary employer to qualify for health benefits, and then go to work for temporary agencies on the side where they make $70 an hour.
Wirth recalled that one such pharmacist was asked to come work for Ahold, but the pharmacist replied, "You can't afford me."
Wirth and David Mott, professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Pharmacy, explained that the gender composition of the pharmacy workforce is contributing to the problem.
"The core group of actively participating pharmacists are women between the ages of 31 and 50, and men over 55," Mott said. Characteristically, male pharmacists have been staying in the workforce longer, but switching to part time around the age of retirement, while female pharmacists tend to go part time earlier than retirement, he explained.
As aging male pharmacists are beginning to work fewer hours, the majority of new pharmacy graduates will be female, which implies that the overall number of pharmacists working part time could rise, he said.
"We need to increase the number of technicians hired, as well as add technology to handle some of the nondiscretionary activities that pharmacists perform," Wirth said.
However, as the job market and range of responsibilities grow for technicians, they will likely be put under increased regulatory scrutiny, Wirth said. This can pose a difficult management issue for chain pharmacies, because regulations on technicians vary by state.
States mandate the ratio of technicians to pharmacists allowed in the pharmacy, Wirth said. "I can't understand why it's 4 to 1 in some states and 2 to 1 in others.