Remember that 100-foot ex-President

October 15, 2011

Do North Carolina pharmacists REALLY want to work 14 hours straight? If so, that's some work ethic.

Its source was a skit that aired shortly after the 1979 Three Mile Island disaster. In the SNL spoof, Jimmy Carter visits the nuclear reactor and is exposed to a massive amount of radiation. Rumors run rampant that he is now 100 feet tall, and a press conference is called to address the situation.

"Is it true that the president is 100 feet tall?" asks a reporter.

"Is the president 90 feet tall?"

"No comment," comes the instant response. The point? What you learn depends on the questions you ask.

Do they or don't they?

I kept this in mind during a recent e-mail exchange with the director of public relations for CVS, the country's second-largest drugstore chain. A story had caught my eye about a pharmacist who was fired from his job, and while I wasn't sure whether it was particularly newsworthy, one thing did grab my attention. The story said he had left his store in the middle of a 14-hour shift.

You read that right. Fourteen hours. I thought that might be my story - the recklessness of expecting employees to work for 14 hours straight in a job where they cannot make a single mistake. I wrote to the PR man and asked whether this was normal CVS policy. Here's what he said:

"Our policy is to adhere to state-specific regulations regarding work breaks. We have standard operating procedures in place to support pharmacists' ability to take breaks in accordance with regulations."

Sounds pretty good, except that I seemed to remember something about North Carolina, where this incident took place, setting the number of hours a pharmacist could work at 12 a day.