Tough week for pharmacy


One bunch of pharmacists won't forget National Pharmacists Week any time soon.







I’m a hospital pharmacist in Central Indiana, and at my hospital, National Pharmacy Week is a big deal. It is celebrated the last full week of October each year, and National Pharmacy Technician Day is also celebrated during that week. We have always made it a big event, but this year we decided to go all out.

We’ll remember this one

I was on a committee to promote the week. We had buttons for both pharmacists and technicians to wear, recognizing the dates. Sales representatives from various companies brought in breakfast and lunch. To involve the rest of the hospital, we had contests and giveaways the whole week. I even wrote an article for the hospital newsletter that was published on Wednesday of that week to promote our department and all the services we provided.

That is what made it so sad and ironic when our hospital picked that Wednesday to make cuts in the pharmacy department staff, layoffs that included both technicians and pharmacists. Friends we had worked with for years and who had racked up significant service time were gone in minutes.

One of the ones who left put up a Facebook post that said, “Happy Pharmacy Week.”

My employer said all the right things. The employees involved left on good terms and are eligible for rehire. The staff reduction was made in reaction to declining census and an expected decrease in revenues resulting from implementation of the ACA. It was just a sign of the times, a necessary cutback to help us stay viable. Had to do it, no other choice.

I wish I could believe that.

A mushrooming liability

Here’s what I think. Pharmacists are expensive. When you get rid of four or five, you save a lot on payroll. We do a lot of clinical work; theoretically we save our hospital money in medication costs and readmissions, but we don’t get paid for any of it. We still are paid only to dispense.

The people we lost were casualties of the budget cuts because we still have not figured out how to get paid for what we know instead of for selling a product. We can show you a bunch of figures and statistics on the good things that we do, but we produce no related revenue to pay the bills. It’s a problem.

Since I started hearing that ACA is causing a shortage of primary care physicians (PCPs), I have said many times that there is not a shortage of doctors, there is a shortage of good doctors. We assist our physicians with medication orders all the time, and we document all that we do. We make a lot of saves every day. Our physicians and patients appreciate our efforts. We save money, we save time on hospital stays, and we save lives. We make a difference, we’re sure of it. And we’re paying a big price.

We need to have provider status and we need to be paid for it. It’s just hard to prove value when you give it all away.

Something's gotta change

The person who figures all this out will be a rock star, more popular than Jimmy Buffett in Cincinnati. Somebody needs to do it, for the students, for the young graduates with loans to pay, and for the older people like me who are still practicing.

Most important, they need to do it for my friends and everyone else in this business who is currently out of a job or can’t even find one to begin with.

And they need to do it pretty damn quick.

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