Walmart has laid off about 3% of its pharmacy staff in a nationwide action. Nearly half of the laid off personnel were senior staff.
“The Walmart actions have been extremely evasive as well as punitive and I sympathize with the horrible experiences that these pharmacists and technicians have because of Walmart mismanagement. It’s not the fault of the pharmacists and the techs for not knowing how to operate pharmacies successfully,” Daniel A. Hussar, PhD, FAPhA, professor emeritus at Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and author of PharmacistActivist.com, tells Drug Topics.
Although there is no specific information, the layoffs appear to have hit older individuals harder. “That is age discrimination,” Steven R. Ariens, RPh, a retired independent pharmacist and author of the “Pharmacist Steve” blog, tellsDrug Topics.
He estimates the cuts affect between 500 and 1,000 pharmacists and techs, based on Walmart’s statement that it is cutting around 3% of its pharmacy staff.
A Walmart spokesperson declined to disclose the exact number of staff laid off. “As we continue to position our business, we are making some adjustments in health and wellness that will impact approximately 3% of our pharmacy associates. We’re working with these associates to find other open positions within the company,” Walmart says in a statement provided to Drug Topics.
“We are on a transformational journey on how we operate our pharmacies and serve our customers, investing in key growth areas to develop our business and associates. We are aligning our staffing with the demands of the business to consistently serve our customers now and in the future,” the retailer says.
News of the layoffs and personal stories have appeared on many social media sites. One former Walmart pharmacist, who is 70 years old, wrote on TheLayoff.com: “My only salvation is I….was planning on retiring soon anyway. I really feel sorry for all the new grads with debt who will have to work in bad conditions for low pay.”
Another individual who was laid off, identified as “South Arkansas,” wrote that he or she has been a pharmacist for 20 years and feels lost. “Called to the back by the DM [district manager] last week 3.5 hours into my shift. He gave me the talking points, went back to the pharmacy, handed me my license, and I was on my way home in 10 minutes! I thought our store was doing well!”
Hussar believes that insurers and PBMs’ low reimbursement rates have impacted Walmart’s pharmacy profitability. “An important contributing factor is that, not that long ago, Walmart announced it was not going to continue to participate in CVS Caremark's prescription benefit plan. But, within several days, Walmart caved in and reached an agreement,” Hussar says. “Walmart, the largest retailer in the world, caving in on prescription benefit plans has missed the opportunity to use their size and strength that would enable them to improve their pharmacy services to their patients, rather than cutting back [on staff],” Hussar says.
Walmart has been focused on increasing grocery sales, particularly via its pickup and delivery services, a service that does not drive traffic into its stores. The mega-retailer expects to lose more than $1 billion in its U.S. e-commerce operations in 2019, according to Recode.
Health care’s share of Walmart’s U.S. sales has been stuck at about 11% for four straight years, Bloomberg reports.“We can do more to help our customers when it comes to their health,” CEO Doug McMillon said last October, according to Bloomberg. However, McMillon declined to reveal a specific plan for expanding healthcare services.