The pharmacy shortage in Monroe county is getting worse, and it couldn't come at a more inconvenient time; new enrollment in Medicare Part D is only a week away.
According to the NYS Education Department, there are currently 155 registered pharmacies in Monroe County and there are only 655 pharmacists. The number breaks down to one pharmacist for every 1105 residents. The number is one which has been steadily shrinking over the last decade.
“There's been a community pharmacist shortage for as long as when I got out of school in 1991, it's getting progressively worse,” says Michael Welsch, president of Miller’s Pharmacy and Long Term Care in Scottsville, “we have two to three pharmacists on at all times in the building, depending on the hours. Right now, our volume is in the top ranks of any of the pharmacies in the County.”
At one time, Miller’s Pharmacy filled 1000 prescriptions per week, now it fills well over 4000 per week.
“There's a phenomenal number of chain pharmacies. Walgreens is coming to town...so their opening more stores up which requires more pharmacists and the volume at these stores is going up,” says Welsch who adds the burden is increased because many local pharmacists are reaching the age of retirement and more people, young and old, are using prescription drugs more than ever before.
“So, we decided that if we were going to do that kind of volume, we needed to have staffing for that,” says Welsch who has taken a proactive approach to making sure his business is fully staffed.
According to New York State law, stores must register as a “department within” which allows them to stay open even if a pharmacist is not on duty. The pharmacy within the store must close. However, if a store does not have the “department within” designated status, the entire store must close. It not only means you may wait longer for a prescription but in extreme cases, your pharmacy may be closed for a day or two if there is no pharmacist available.
“I spend about 30 hours a week working here as a pharmacist, I spend another 15 to 20 hours a week running the stores,” says Welsch who spends a good deal of his time counseling patients about their medications.
“Insurance is becoming more complicated so we're definitely spending more time counseling people on things that are not directly related to their medicine.”
On November 15th, new enrollment in Medicare Part D begins again and industry experts predict it will likely put another time crunch on area pharmacists who are already facing a labor shortage.
“It's not like in the old days, when you had two or three different plans that you had to know about in the City, now you have Medicare Part D, so it's impossible for them to know all the different drug formularies and what medications are covered and which ones aren't,” says Tom Sorrento, a pharmaceutical consultant with the Greater Rochester Independence Practice Association.
“Typically, what happens is a patient will change plans and all of a sudden the medications that they were getting covered aren't covered anymore.”
The problem means more time is spent by pharmacists sorting out insurance coverage rather than medications.
“I'm making phone calls for the patients, calling the pharmacies, making sure that they're being billed correctly because sometimes the patient will have applied for additional help and the pharmacy may not know that,” says Sorrento.