NCPA survey: Tight labor market squeezing local pharmacies

NCPA’s recent survey of independent pharmacists found that 80% of local pharmacies can’t find workers.
Sandra Levy
Senior Editor
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The national labor shortage that has small employers scrambling for workers also is affecting front-line health care providers, according to the National Community Pharmacists Association, which today released a new survey.

“This is a major challenge for community pharmacies that are seeing many more patients because of the pandemic,” said NCPA CEO Doug Hoey. “Finding qualified workers is tough under normal circumstances. This is an acute problem for local pharmacies that should be at full strength now.”

In the survey of independent community pharmacists conducted May 26-28, 80% say they are having a difficult time filling open positions. Nearly 90% of respondents say they can’t find pharmacy technicians, a critical position. Nearly 60% can’t find front-end employees to run the cash register, track inventory, and manage other basic store operations. Twenty-five percent can’t find delivery drivers, a big problem now that most local pharmacies expanded that service during the COVID-19 crisis. More than 13% are running into a wall trying to hire staff pharmacists to handle prescriptions and patients.

The labor shortage also is driving up wages and benefits, a trickier problem for local pharmacies than most other small businesses, NCPA noted.

According to the survey, more than 72% of respondents say they are raising wages to attract workers. Fifty-six percent are offering more flexible work hours, and more than 20% are increasing benefits. According to the 2020 NCPA Digest, sponsored by Cardinal Health, the average technician wage is $16 per hour, while the average wage for sales clerks and other positions is $11.90 per hour.

“Their costs are going up. They can’t cut services. And their patients have never needed them more,” said Hoey. “One thing Congress can do immediately is clarify the Payroll Protection Program, which allowed many pharmacies to keep their workers at the onset of the pandemic,” said Hoey. “There’s a lot of confusion about whether they have to pay back the loans, even though they followed the program. The uncertainty creates additional pressure.

“Congress should also remember that every business is competing for the same employees, so wages and benefits will increase without the need for government intervention. Anything they do that discourages workers from getting back into the job market is counter-productive.”

The NCPA survey is based on 278 responses to a survey sent to roughly 8,000 pharmacy owners/managers.