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State Pharmacy Board meets to discuss Walgreens closures

The state is taking action in the face of sudden disruptions at Walgreens pharmacies. (WGME)
The state is taking action in the face of sudden disruptions at Walgreens pharmacies. (WGME)
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PORTLAND (WGME) -- The state is taking action in the face of sudden disruptions at Walgreens pharmacies.

The group that regulates pharmacies in Maine met Thursday to talk about the issue.

The issue is going before the State Pharmacy Board because the closures are repeatedly happening at the same locations.

It's impacting people's access to vaccines, COVID testing and medications.

"This is the most unusual grouping of reports," Office of Professional and Occupational Regulation Administrator Geraldine Betts said.

When pharmacies change their hours to their posted schedule, the State Pharmacy Board has to be notified.

If that happens four or more times in a calendar month, the board can eventually require the site to change its hours.

“The board has, not that I recall, ever gone into that," Betts said.

The repeated problems discussed Thursday reportedly happened at 13 Walgreens pharmacies from Buxton to Bar Harbor, Lewiston to Brunswick.

One site in Auburn was closed nine times in October.

“Always closed, but it's happening all around town though,” pharmacy customer Melissa Fisher said. “There's not enough people to keep it open."

The location on Congress Street in Portland closed four times in October and another four times in August.

“When you call, they say they're open, but when you get here, they're not open," Fisher said.

Others were shocked it was such an issue.

"Anna the pharmacist, I’ve seen her work from open to close day after day after day,” pharmacy customer Peter Winchester said.

All of the reports presented to the board blamed staffing problems.

“Did I hear this was happening with other chains and or individual pharmacies as well?” Pharmacy Board Member Tim McCormack said.

“We have not seen reports from others just yet," Betts said.

That is something the state is looking out for, but so far, the problem seems limited to Walgreens.

“We're kind of tired of using the term ‘unprecedented times,’ but I've been doing this for 20 years and have never ever seen it as tough as it is," Pharmacy Board President Brad Hamilton said.

The state is going to remind Walgreens that it has to clearly post changes to the hours and customers have to be notified of another nearby location that can help.

The state has already reached out to the chain to get more info about why this is happening.

The board even discussed having a meeting with a representative.

In a statement to CBS13, Walgreens said, "We apologize for any inconvenience to our customers and patients, as we have adjusted pharmacy hours in our stores to accommodate current staffing needs, while also working to ensure minimal disruption to our customers. "

The pharmacy chain added that it was proud of the extraordinary efforts of its pharmacy and store teams.

"Throughout this greater demand for COVID-related services, they are working to ensure that our patients and customers are cared for, even as we address staffing challenges due to the ongoing labor shortage. What we are seeing currently is consistent with what many other healthcare entities have been experiencing," Walgreens said. "We've expanded our recruitment efforts amidst a pronounced labor shortage, and we’re taking every step possible to help meet current heightened demand for COVID-19 vaccinations, as well as testing and other pharmacy services."

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