Safety in the pharmacy: Continuing the dialogue

You may have noticed a resurgence recently of the online dialogue about the safety of pharmacists in the workplace, particularly after a pharmacist and technician were shot and wounded at their Walgreens in Garner, NC.

On APhA’s Facebook page, I shared my own expressions of concern for the victims and a fond appreciation for their work. This prompted a passionate dialogue about how vulnerable and unsafe some pharmacists feel in their community pharmacy setting. Worse, many of the commenters felt that their employers are indifferent to their concerns. Several others challenged APhA to step up and help effect change. This conversation continued on our social media platforms.

My own familiarity with this issue is not theoretical. Three times during my career as a community pharmacy owner, my team was held up at gunpoint and my pharmacy was broken into twice. Thankfully, no shots were fired, but I haven’t forgotten the visceral fear and anger we experienced. We also remember DEA and the state board reporting AND the cooperation with police to catch and keep the bad guys. Many of you have shared similar experiences with me.

First, a bedrock principle: all employers have a fundamental moral duty to reasonably ensure the safety of their employees. Pharmacists and their employers need to be able to have open conversation without fear of retribution. Our policy urges employers to collaborate with pharmacy staff regularly on safety issues, and opposes retaliating against pharmacy staff for reporting safety issues. When such an environment does not exist, patient safety organizations can provide an effective forum. We can and should try make things better for our members, by exercising thought leadership, advocacy, and the power of persuasion.

No employer wants their employees to be unsafe. They too shoulder significant liability. The truth is, no safety measure can be absolute. Even the most extreme security measures are not foolproof. In pharmacy, we value and promote patients’ access to our care, and even to ourselves. The challenge in each practice is to balance adoption of improved safety measures with the need to foster patient access to our valuable services. Ideally this should be a dialogue with frontline pharmacists and their management, supported by good policies. On the one hand, we don’t want to create barriers to the level of care we’ve worked so hard to establish. On the other hand, we want all pharmacy staff, patients, and clientele to be safe. These are not easy questions!

At the APhA annual meeting, the House of Delegates will be asked to consider policy statements that, in part, address concerns about pharmacist safety, and the impact of those concerns on practitioner well-being. Please take a look at it and let me know what you think in the comments section below, or engage in the House of Delegate discussions at the HOD Engage Community. You do not need to be a delegate to provide your insights, but you will need to log in to view the HOD Engage Community.