Chain taking steps to improve working conditions for pharmacy staff.
Members of the pharmacy profession are at or near a high water mark in terms of public perception and recognition. Their performance during the COVID pandemic, when they stepped up to shift the nation’s sluggish immunization program into high gear, together with their steadily expanding role in community health care, have raised expectations among pharmacists, patients, policy makers and payers. As noted in this space in the August 8 issue of Chain Drug Review, the time is right for advocates to push for legislative and regulatory changes that would unleash pharmacy’s latent power.
It is also time for pharmacy operators to reward employees who epitomize what their companies are all about. Walgreens Boots Alliance is doing just that. Last week, the company announced internally a new round of investments that are part of an ongoing effort to elevate the base pay ranges of its pharmacists. The initiative builds on $640M of previously announced investments in its employees, including $450 million as part of the move to a $15 an hour minimum wage and $190 million in incremental investments for pharmacy staff.
“We’re going to continue to make investments in frontline workers, not only financially but in terms of development as well,” said Roz Brewer, WBA’s chief executive officer, earlier this year. “I see opportunities for our pharmacists to provide more services. I want to see our people grow. We’re looking at some pretty interesting education models for our team members, so that they can better their life. That’s something that’s really important to me.”
In addition to raising base pay rate ranges for pharmacists across the United States, WBA’s latest moves include the extension of premium pay for members of the profession who elect to work additional shifts and the provision of sign-up bonuses for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.
The company had previously instituted bonuses for pharmacy technicians who earned certification to administer COVID vaccines, and planned enhancements to the annual merit review process to provide compensation increases or lump sum payments for all Walgreens pharmacists.
The company is taking other steps to improve working conditions for pharmacy staff and, at the same time, enhance their ability to deliver high-quality patient care. During the third quarter of fiscal 2022, Walgreens launched four automated micro-fulfillment centers for prescription medications, which have proven instrumental in removing routine tasks and excess inventory from the pharmacies they support. In addition to driving efficiency, the micro-fulfillment centers are designed to free pharmacists to interact with patients and provide such clinical services as point-of-care testing, immunizations for an expanded range of conditions and, where regulations allow, the prescribing of Paxlovid, oral contraceptives and other medications.
Nine micro-fulfillment centers, serving a third of Walgreens’ stores, are scheduled to be in operation by the close of the fiscal year. Each facility currently fills about 20% of prescriptions for the stores in its area, with a goal of raising that figure to 40% to 50% over time.
The company is also delivering on Brewer’s pledge to help team members live better lives — both inside and outside the workplace. In May, Walgreens introduced Be Well Connected, an initiative designed to provide staff members with easy access to a wide range of services and support that foster “whole person health,” encompassing mind, body and spirit.
Building on Life365, the company’s existing employee assistance program platform, Be Well Connected includes resources ranging from five free counseling sessions with a licensed therapist to a customized mobile app, mental health and wellness solution that connects team members to one of the world’s largest and most inclusive well-being communities. The services are available to team members and their families at no cost.
In bolstering its commitment to pharmacists, WBA does several important things, rewarding individuals who helped their patients and the community at large through the most serious public health emergency since the influenza pandemic more than a century ago, and making Walgreens an even more attractive place to practice. At the same time, the increased investment in pharmacy stands as a tangible vote of confidence in the future of the profession and its impact on health care. That affirmation should encourage other stakeholders to double down on their support for the profession.