Dayton, Springfield CVS stores on probation after $1.5M understaffing settlement with state

$1.5 million settlement largest in Ohio history

Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: This story originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal

The Ohio Board of Pharmacy and CVS announced Thursday that they had settled claims of critical understaffing at 22 Ohio stores owned by CVS, the nation’s largest pharmacy retailer.

The settlement totaled $1.5 million in fines and fees and imposed other sanctions on the corporate giant. A spokesman for the pharmacy board said it was the largest penalty ever imposed by the regulatory agency.

Among the problems found by pharmacy board inspectors between 2020 and late last year were delays in filling prescriptions as long as a month; improperly filled prescriptions that in at least one instance resulted in patient harm; a lack of controls and the loss of opioids and other dangerous drugs; and adulterated or expired medications persisting on pharmacy shelves month after month.

Current and former CVS pharmacists and technicians told the Ohio Capital Journal that as they were run ragged, CVS district and regional management sometimes ignored their pleas for help even when it was available. They added that management was quick to impose ancillary, money-making duties even as pharmacy staff fell behind on their core responsibility — filling prescriptions.

Among the agreed-to penalties, CVS will pay a $1.25 million fine and another $250,000 to cover increased monitoring to ensure that its stores comply with other terms of the agreement. In addition, the licenses of stores No. 1756 in Reynoldsburg, 2528 in Dayton, 3321 in Wooster, 3455 in Coshocton, 6153 in Columbus, 6183 in Springfield, 8248 in Massillon and 10246 in Toledo are on probation for three years.

The penalties come after the board earlier this month fined CVS store No. 2063 in Canton $250,000 and placed it on three years’ probation.

“By entering into this settlement agreement, the Board seeks immediate and systemic changes to protect patients and address critical understaffing,” Board of Pharmacy Executive Director Steven W. Schierholt said in a statement announcing Thursday’s settlement. “We believe that this agreement is an acknowledgement by CVS that considerable changes are warranted to ensure the safe practice of pharmacy at their retail stores.”

In a statement, a CVS spokeswoman again sought to play down the pharmacy board’s findings at its stores.

“We’re pleased to have reached an agreement with the Ohio Board of Pharmacy regarding years-old allegations involving some of our Ohio pharmacies,” Amy Thibault said in an email. “We look forward to working with the Board on these matters moving forward, including enhancing our positive identification systems, and continuing to provide safe, high-quality pharmacy care to our patients.”

She called the allegations “years-old,” but some were considerably more recent. For example, Thursday’s agreement settles violations found on Sept. 23, 2023 at CVS store 10246 in Toledo — just five months ago.

Thibault said CVS is taking steps to make sure that enough people are working in its pharmacies to keep patients healthy and safe.

“We’re committed to ensuring there are appropriate levels of staffing and resources at our pharmacies and are making targeted investments, including enabling teams to schedule additional support as needed, enhancing pharmacist and technician recruitment and hiring, and strengthening pharmacy technician training,” she said. “We’re also making roughly $1 billion in wage increases for pharmacists between 2021 and 2024 and are also awarding roughly $70 million in bonuses to recognize and thank our pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and other frontline colleagues this year.”

Until the pandemic, CVS had been aggressively buying out competitors as critics accused it of improperly using its pharmacy benefit manager — CVS Caremark — to undercut the competition by under-reimbursing it. Regardless of whether that was the case, CVS usually bought the stores, closed them, and moved their prescriptions to the nearest CVS pharmacy.

Then in 2021 as the pandemic set in, CVS announced that it was closing 900 of its own stores nationwide, citing weak retail sales in the face of online competition.

In those cases as well, prescriptions were moved to existing CVS stores. But pharmacy employees complained that the corporation didn’t add nearly enough staff to meet the increased workload.

As the Ohio Board of Pharmacy has moved against understaffing at CVS’s stores in the Buckeye State, CVS customers and employees across the country complained of similar conditions at their stores.

In the midst of all the complaints in Ohio, the Board of Pharmacy has proposed sweeping new standards that, among other things, would empower the pharmacist in charge to bolster staffing without fear of retaliation.

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