On July 16, 2020, the Oklahoma State Board of Pharmacy fined CVS, the nationwide pharmacy chain, $125,000, after auditors found safety issues and “chaotic” scenes at four of its pharmacies. State regulators in Oklahoma cited and fined the nation’s largest retail pharmacy chain for conditions including inadequate staffing and errors made in filling prescriptions. Hopefully, this was isolated to the few stores involved.
In four separate administrative orders, the Oklahoma State Board of Pharmacy said that auditors responded to complaints at each of the pharmacies for issues including long waiting times, wrong information on prescription refills, and dosage mistakes. The state board inspected the four pharmacies from mid-2019 to early 2020. In one case, the complaint said the pharmacy had put someone on hold on multiple occasions, sometimes as long as an hour. In another case, a woman said that when she got her medication refilled, the name and other information on the bottle she received was for someone else.
The pharmacy chains have pushed back on customer and employees’ complaints, saying staffing is sufficient and errors are rare.
On multiple occasions, state auditors visiting the pharmacies said they found understaffed facilities, with the phone continuously ringing, employees working around unopened (and, we assume, un-inventoried) delivery boxes, and long lines at the drive-through windows. According to the orders, one pharmacy stated that it was normal for them to be as much as two weeks behind in filling prescriptions as a result of understaffing. It should be noted that the audits took place predominantly before the COVID-19 crisis.
Additionally, in letters to state pharmacy boards and in interviews, pharmacists working for CVS allegedly admitted that they struggled to keep up with an increasing number of tasks including filling prescriptions, giving flu shots, tending the drive-through window, answering phones, and calling patients. According to the orders, many said they also struggled to meet corporate performance metrics that they characterized as excessive and unsafe.
As a routine customer of CVS Pharmacy (not in Oklahoma, of course), I can sympathize with the pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and clerks. In many places, pharmacists are now being required to administer a laundry list of vaccinations (literally, ten different vaccinations), practice medicine to a limited scope, contact prescribing physicians, constantly order out-of-stock drugs, order diagnostic tests, and answer all sorts of customer questions. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a steady flow of coronavirus tests to administer to customers at the drive-through window. I see first-hand how difficult it is for these front-line healthcare professionals to keep up on a daily basis.
The Oklahoma Board said it “strongly recommended” that CVS follow through on nearly a dozen recommendations for all of its Oklahoma pharmacies, including increased training for technicians and changes to how staffing needs were determined. Additionally, the Oklahoma Board advised eliminating tasks that might overburden pharmacists and removing some metrics they are required to meet. For example, phone calls pharmacists often must make could be outsourced to a corporate call center.
In a statement, CVS Pharmacy said it agreed with the Board to settle the matter to avoid the lengthy and costly hearing process. The orders specify that CVS neither admits to nor denies the violations. The company agreed to pay the fines and to make other efforts to address the problems without contesting the allegations.
While the fine of $125,000 is relatively small for CVS, as it’s the country’s fifth-largest company, the move did validate the concerns raised at multiple drugstore chains by pharmacists who say workplaces are putting the public at risk.
You can read all four orders in this case here: CVS Order – Bartlesville, CVS Order – Choctaw, CVS Order – Moore, and CVS Order – Owasso.
Consult With A Health Law Attorney Experienced in the Representation of Pharmacists and Pharmacies.
We routinely provide defense for pharmacists, pharmacies, and pharmacy technicians; defense to complaints filed against their licenses; defense to complaints filed by patients; defense in litigation against pharmacists, pharmacies, and technicians; legal representation and defense to DEA and Board of Pharmacy audits, investigations, and subpoenas; legal representation in depositions in criminal cases, negligence cases, civil cases, or disciplinary cases involving other health professionals. We have experience in dealing with HIPAA privacy complaints, audits, and investigations. We have experience in defending in Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare, and health insurance audits. We accept most professional liability insurance that pharmacists carry.
The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing physicians, physician assistants, and other health professionals in investigations and at Board of Pharmacy hearings. Call our office now at (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.
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