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Columbia CVS employees walk out amid 'host of workplace issues'

A phone showing the CVS Pharmacy logo.
Marques Thomas
The CVS location on Bernadette Drive, located in Target at the Columbia Mall, was closed around 10 a.m. Wednesday with notes taped to the counters explaining workers’ absences.

A CVS Pharmacy in Columbia was closed Wednesday morning amid regional organizers’ calls for company pharmacists to walk out in protest of unsuitable workplace conditions.

Protests began last week when a group of CVS pharmacists in Kansas City staged a walkout due to “the brutal work environment that CVS has created which fosters extreme stress, anxiety, and even tears,” according to a Facebook post. The post details pharmacists’ concerns, primarily the overscheduling of vaccine appointments that put pharmacists far behind on filling prescriptions.

“The extreme workload on these pharmacists makes providing SAFE patient care impossible,” organizers wrote on Facebook.

The CVS location on Bernadette Drive, located in Target at the Columbia Mall, was closed around 10 a.m. Wednesday with notes taped to the counters explaining workers’ absences.

“Due to chronic understaffing among a host of workplace issues. This pharmacy will be closed for today,” the note read. “We are very sorry to you, our patients, for the inconvenience.”

The pharmacy opened at about 1 p.m. when additional staff arrived. Columbia’s other two CVS stores, located on Forum Boulevard and Clark Lane, remained open. Employees at the other two locations declined to comment on any potential walkout activity.

Concerns regarding the work environment for pharmacists have worsened in recent years, according to the Kansas Pharmacists Association. In a statement of support for the protesting pharmacists issued Monday, the association said a 2022 survey found that 57% of pharmacists reported they did not have adequate time to complete their jobs safely or effectively.

Kansas City organizers shared on Facebook that they met with CVS executives this week and made requests including limitations to four immunization appointments per hour and a public apology.

In an internal memo issued to Kansas City staff and acquired by USA Today, Prem Shah, CVS chief pharmacy officer and president of pharmacy and consumer wellness, apologized for failing to address staff concerns sooner. Pharmacy leadership will remain in Kansas City until market needs are addressed, Shah wrote. He also made a commitment to return to the area each month until leadership has created a “sustainable plan of action” for the region.

In a Facebook message, the Kansas City pharmacists wrote they considered the internal apology inadequate.

“With the trust between CVS and the Pharmacy Teams strained and broken, the team felt they had no choice but to acknowledge that the negotiations failed and the walk out to force change would continue,” pharmacists wrote.

Despite employee walkouts proceeding as planned Wednesday, CVS’s ability to serve patients in Kansas City was not affected, said Amy Thibault, lead director of external communications for CVS Pharmacy. CVS is not seeing any “abnormal activity” in other markets, Thibault wrote in an email.

“We want our pharmacy teams to be able to succeed,” Thibault wrote. “Which is why we’ve taken several actions to support our local teams including providing additional pharmacy resources to support stores that may be at capacity, providing additional support for filling open positions and increasing staffing levels.”

The Columbia Missourian is a community news organization managed by professional editors and staffed by Missouri School of Journalism students who do the reporting, design, copy editing, information graphics, photography and multimedia.
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