By Ed Hersh
With school in full swing and increased demand for flu vaccines and COVID boosters, the Rag has heard reports of unannounced, sometimes day-long closings of several Duane Reade pharmacies, including the busy location at 79th Street and Amsterdam.
From a posting on the “Next Door” app:
Stay away from the Duane Reade pharmacy at Amsterdam and 79th Street. By the admission of their own staff, it is a “mess,” and “will remain so for some time.”
The poster said the pharmacy was closed for four days last week, and store staff:
…suggested that Duane Reade pharmacy customers switch their “preferred” pharmacy to Broadway and 72nd Street until the situation is resolved. Or to a non-Duane Reade pharmacy in the local area.
When the Rag visited the 79th and Amsterdam Duane Reade Friday, the pharmacy was open. But after this reporter identified himself, a pharmacy staffer said, “we’ve been told not to talk to the press.” A woman identifying herself as the store manager (who was helping out at the pharmacy) said, “You’ll have to talk to corporate,” meaning Walgreens, parent company of Duane Reade.
The Rag had already noted another unexpected closing this past Monday, at the Duane Reade pharmacy at 90th and Amsterdam. One store employee there said at the time, “We were short a pharmacist.” Another told the Rag, “Duane Reade knows about it but there’s nothing we can do.” On Friday, the pharmacy there was open, with long lines for pick-ups and 7 or 8 people waiting for vaccines.
The Rag reached out to the Walgreens corporate media office, and In an emailed statement, spokesperson Kris Lathan said:
What we are seeing in some areas is consistent with what many other healthcare entities have been experiencing – staffing challenges due to the ongoing national labor shortage.
We continue to take steps to help mitigate these pressures, however there are some instances where we’ve had to adjust or reduce pharmacy operating hours as we work to balance staffing and resources in the market to best meet customer demand.
Pharmacists at two small, independent pharmacies on the Upper West Side said they haven’t seen evidence of a national pharmacist shortage. Rather, they said, it’s a shortage of pharmacists willing to work in high-volume chain drug stores like Duane Reade/Walgreens, CVS, and Rite-Aid. A recent New York Times story, “How Pharmacy Work Stopped Being So Great,” described increased pressures on pharmacists working in national chains, citing a number of factors, including keeping up with demand for COVID tests and vaccines.
At the 79th Street Pharmacy between Amsterdam and Broadway, diagonally across from Duane Reade, pharmacist Keith Lewis agreed the working conditions at chains can be tough. “They kill you there,” he said. When he talks to pharmacists at chains, he says, “they all sound miserable.” And because of the random closures at some chain stores, he says he’s been receiving a steady stream of prescriptions. “We’re starting to have people switch from Walgreens,” he said.
On Facebook, another poster commented,
FYI, was at the Duane Reade at 700 Columbus, saw a sign by the entrance for new pharmacy hours. They are now closed Tuesdays and I think Thursdays also. Still closed weekends.
According to the Walgreens spokesperson,
Adjusted store hours are reflected on the store locator, which is updated throughout the day at Walgreens.com/FindaStore and on the Walgreens mobile app. Customers who have questions about their medications can also talk to a Walgreens pharmacist using the Pharmacist Video Chat feature available 24/7 on Walgreens mobile app and website.
The Rag will continue to report on this story. If you have experiences with closures or difficulties at any of our local pharmacies, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will follow up with you.