Everyone knows doctors and nurses are exhausted by COVID-19, facing staff shortages, full emergency rooms and COVID exposures – but a group of healthcare workers have been overlooked and faces its own set of challenges related to COVID: pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.
“Most pharmacists who have been in the business for a while tell students ‘quit, don’t go to pharmacy school, do something else, anything else’,” said a clinical pharmacist. in Boston. “I hope people who go to pharmacy school do it because they really have a passion for it and will fight for it and don’t want to do anything else with their life.”
The pharmacist, who asked to remain anonymous for job security, said she faced challenges unique to the COVID era, including staff shortages due to COVID outages and people leaving the hospital. ‘industry. She was even asked to come to work while caring for her HIV-positive child, she said.
Mike Reppucci, owner of Cambridge’s Inman Pharmacy since 1984, had three of seven pharmacists absent last week due to COVID and one on parental leave. He had to accumulate 30 hours of overtime to fill in the gaps, and other staff worked 10-20 hours of overtime. He even enlisted his son – an EMT who is certified to do so – to administer the COVID vaccines.
“It tires everyone,” he said.
Another pharmacist, a recent graduate who works at a specialty pharmacy west of Boston, said she was so tired at the end of the workday that she “could barely walk” after her shift. . “I feel overworked and exhausted,” she said. “I’m in the call center, I’m in the lab. I float wherever I can, doing work that was previously done by three different people.
She added that the rapidly evolving news around the pandemic has affected demand for some drugs, especially ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug that has been shown to be ineffective in treating COVID-19, but misinformation has circulated there. last year, touting its benefits in the fight against COVID-19.
The owner of the pharmacy she works in “loved to sell ivermectin” when demand soared to “dozens of batches a day” last summer, much to her staff’s dismay. “It was kind of a point of contention,” she said.
When state regulators cracked down on the distribution of the drug for COVID-19, as its dose indicates, customers who previously filled prescriptions for ivermectin there were “pissed off” at it, she said. She added that the doctors even called and invented parasitic infections to get the medicine from the patients.
Doctors and patients are also frustrated with pharmacists when supply chain issues prevent them from filling prescriptions, sometimes for a month or more.
The Boston-based clinical pharmacist said she sometimes had to call 20 hospitals to get a vial of a needed drug, which still may not be enough.
“Some doctors are more understanding than others about shortages or what we can and can’t do, others are more like ‘No, I don’t care.’ This is what I need. You have to get it no matter what, ”she said.
As the faces and perceived gatekeepers of drugs, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians can often bear the brunt of the anger of patients, nurses and doctors, sometimes even faced with “verbal and sometimes even physical abuse,” said Monica Mahoney, Infectious Disease Clinical Pharmacy Specialist. at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, speaking extensively on the state of the industry.
Pharmacists also have a responsibility to keep abreast of evolving regulations and emergency use authorizations for COVID-related therapies, including vaccines, and, of course, administering vaccines.
“You’re supposed to fill prescriptions, counsel patients, and get all those vaccines delivered in less time with the same manpower or maybe less manpower if you also had attrition, and be also responsible for monitoring new doses for each vaccine. Mahoney said conditions.
Of course, all of this affects not only pharmacists, but patients as well.
“They have much longer wait times and they don’t always get the ideal treatment they would have if we had all the resources at our disposal and we had everything we want,” the Boston pharmacist said. . “They end up getting alternative treatment or like a second or a third line, whatever we can get our hands on. “
All of these additional stressors can lead to more errors – 3% for each additional prescription filled per hour, according to a University of Arizona study – and longer hospital stays.
Although the Boston-based pharmacist said her bosses had tried to alleviate stress by giving employees access to mindful apps and hosting pizzas (the inspiration for the pharmacist-social media hashtag #PizzaIsNotWorking ), she says it doesn’t do the job.
“It hasn’t been anything like ‘Here’s a raise for everyone because you’ve worked so hard. Here’s a bonus,” she said. “What they’re giving us is is not enough.