Topics: UFCW Members in Action

Profit-driven quotas, long hours take toll on pharmacists


When California began delivering millions of COVID-19 vaccines, we turned to neighborhood pharmacists to get shots in arms quickly and safely. These highly educated and trained medical professionals helped to protect our communities, making personal sacrifices to serve even though they already perform high-pressure jobs where mistakes may cost lives.

So, when pharmacists told me that the boiler-room working conditions in retail pharmacies jeopardize their professional oaths and public safety, I listened — and you should, too.

Your neighborhood pharmacists dispense nearly 70 percent of all prescriptions. Unfortunately, they face profit-driven sales quotas, such as enrolling 40 percent of patients into automatic refill programs and filling a minimum number of prescriptions per hour that have nothing to do with the safe practice of medicine.

I’ve introduced SB 362 to ban these quotas and impose penalties on businesses that interfere with the professional judgment of pharmacists. The bill is not just about protecting pharmacists. It’s really about protecting us from haste and mistakes.

Pharmacists are the last line of defense against potentially deadly drug interactions. As they fill prescriptions, they must call prescribing physicians, verify correct dosing, check for drug interactions and allergic reactions and counsel, educate and answer patient questions about their medicine. They also answer phones and even operate the cash register.

Over the last decade, pharmacists have been enlisted to relieve the shortage of primary care physicians, so they also dispense flu shots, tobacco cessation tools, contraceptives and opioid overdose rescue products. Now they’re even giving COVID-19 vaccinations to confront the biggest public health challenge in a century.

With so many important, detail-oriented responsibilities to juggle, we must ensure that a pharmacist’s only priority is to provide the best patient care possible.

In a survey conducted by the California Board of Pharmacy, 85 percent of pharmacists responded that their workload was too heavy. A recent exposé by NBC News showed how overwhelmed pharmacists are: “From 12-hour shifts so busy they don’t have time to go to the bathroom or eat to crying in their cars every day after work or lying awake at night worrying about mistakes they might have made while rushing, they described an industry of health care professionals at the breaking point.”

Using quotas to boost profits takes a toll on pharmacists: “‘Basically, your day is timed out by the minute — it’s like the worst case of micromanaging you can imagine…’”

Pharmacists frequently face these pressures while working alone in 12-hour shifts. The combination of profit-driven quotas and mile-long to-do lists can only increase the odds of deadly mistakes. Every year uninformed or improper use of prescription drugs harms nearly 150,000 Californians.

We cannot let profit-based motives get in the way of the health and safety of patients. SB 362 stipulates that pharmacies may not impose quotas on prescriptions or services conducted by a pharmacist. Instead, pharmacists will have sole discretion to determine the amount of time necessary to fill each prescription or provide a service that involves the sanctity of their oath and license.

As the son of a surgeon, I know how important this oath is and how much pharmacists hold themselves and peers accountable to the highest ethical standards.

California law lets doctors be doctors by preserving their independence to practice medicine. State law also should let pharmacists be pharmacists.

We must stop flirting with disaster and put patients’ health and safety first in our pharmacies.

Editor’s Note: State Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) represents the 29th District, which includes portions of Los Angeles, Orange, and San Bernardino counties.

Read the full op-ed here: