Walgreens fined for violating closure requirements at two Washington County pharmacies

Walgreens has been fined $10,500 by the state because two of its Washington County pharmacies closed without notification, as regulators continue cracking down on unreported closures and the chain begins to shutter other locations in Maine and around the nation.

Walgreens agreed to pay the penalty for 11 days of unreported closures between February and December 2022 at its site on Dublin Street in Machias, and for six days of closures between May and September 2022 at its North Street store in Calais, state records show.

The Maine Board of Pharmacy regulators said they began investigating after receiving complaints last December about “frequent closures” at the stores. The regulators said the company violated a requirement that it reports to the board if a store deviates from remaining open a minimum of 40 hours a week.

The Maine Monitor reported in November that Walgreens paid $68,000 in fines last year for violating state staffing and operating hours laws at 10 Maine locations. At the time, CVS was the chain with the second-highest number of penalties in the state, with four cases and $13,500 in fines.


Several previous violations also stemmed from failing to remain open a minimum of 40 hours a week, the Monitor reported. Others targeted a rule that the stores have a pharmacist in charge. 

The Monitor previously reported some pharmacists complained they are overworked and understaffed. There are also continuing complaints of a shortage of pharmacists. 

Meanwhile, Walgreens, which operates approximately 9,000 stores nationally, announced earlier this year it plans to close 150 U.S. locations by next August.

The Bangor Daily News reported earlier this month a Walgreens store in the Piscataquis County town of Guilford laid off 12 employees when it permanently closed Sept. 18.

Walgreens operated the only pharmacy for the town of 1,267 residents on the Piscataquis River, with the next-closest pharmacy six miles east in Dover-Foxcroft.

Even before Walgreens announced the closure of its Guilford location, Wendy Denney, a local bed and breakfast owner, noticed lapses in staffing and inventory that made it difficult for her to receive vital diabetes medications.

Denney said Walgreens didn’t keep the medications she needed adequately stocked, and even when she tried to ensure the pharmacy had her prescriptions on hand well in advance, the medications wouldn’t be there when she went to pick them up.

“I would often run there to pick up my meds because I would get a message on my phone (from Walgreens) saying the med was ready,” Denney said. “Then I would go to pick it up and they’d be like, ‘Oh, well, we’re out of this med. Come back later.’”

The pharmacy became so unreliable that a couple of months ago, Denney switched to an online program to get her prescriptions delivered by mail.

“I realized I couldn’t rely on Walgreens to have the prescriptions when they were supposed to have them, even though they were repetitious prescriptions,” Denney said.

In a sign of worker unrest in the industry, pharmacists in at least a dozen Kansas City-area CVS pharmacies did not show up for work for two days in September, the Associated Press reported. They planned to be out again last week until the company sent its chief pharmacy officer with promises to fill open positions and increase staffing levels, the AP said.

The story Walgreens fined for violating closure requirements at two Washington County pharmacies appeared first on The Maine Monitor.

Bennington ambulance service and recovery center team up to reach drug users

Bill Camarda, executive director of the Bennington Rescue Squad, staffs a booth at the annual MayFest event, providing harm reduction materials and education to members of the community. Photo courtesy of Bennington Rescue Squad.

The Bennington Rescue Squad and the Turning Point Center of Bennington have launched a new kind of partnership to reach people with substance use disorders who have so far been falling through the cracks. The Vermont Office of Emergency Medical Services calls it the first collaboration of its kind in the state.

Whenever the rescue squad responds to a substance-related call – many of them nonfatal opioid overdoses – emergency responders offer to take patients to the local emergency room, where volunteer peer coaches with the Turning Point Center are on standby to talk about paths to recovering from substance abuse.

But of the 20 to 30 emergency calls the squad receives every month, at least 25% of the patients refuse to be taken to the hospital, said squad director Bill Camarda. For those five to 10 people, emergency responders can only leave them with opioid antidote kits and printed information about where to seek help.  

“They really don’t want to have anything to do with the health care system,” Camarda said. “But at the same time, they’re not in the right mindset to be like, ‘I really need some help right now.’”

He said those patients are deterred by several factors: the stigma attached to drug use, a belief that nothing can help them, or preoccupation with getting their next dose, which will get rid of withdrawal symptoms.

After seeing dozens of local residents with substance use disorder fall through cracks in the system each year, the two Bennington nonprofit organizations decided to partner on another way to reach them. 

Starting June 9, when someone who shows signs or a history of substance use disorder refuses to be taken to the emergency department by the Bennington Rescue Squad, Camarda said paramedics on scene ask for written consent to share the patient’s name, contact information and case summary with the Turning Point Center.

If patients agree, peer coaches will visit them within 24 to 48 hours and discuss the resources available in combating substance use disorder. 

Bennington EMT Rick Noel preparing harm reduction kits to hand out for at-risk individuals and at public events. Photo courtesy of Bennington Rescue Squad

“We have the opportunity to potentially get ahead of some of these crises,” said Margae Diamond, executive director of the Bennington Turning Point Center.

Like they do at the hospital emergency room, the coaches may discuss medication-assisted treatment, psychotherapy, recovery coaching, support group meetings and organizations that can help with finding work or a new home.

During these home visits, Diamond said, recovery coaches will pair up with a local mental health professional from United Counseling Service, in recognition that substance use and mental health are often closely linked.

On top of the growing number of opioid overdose deaths, the Bennington recovery center is also concerned about the pervasive use of alcohol. The state Department of Health has reported that last year in Vermont, excessive alcohol use was associated with nearly one in four deaths among people ages 20-34 and nearly one in five deaths of those ages 35-49.


“The ricochet of problems that develop from long-term alcohol use is something that we’d like to be able to identify earlier and provide some connection to resources,” Diamond said.

Since the partnership’s launch in June, however, only three patients have allowed the rescue squad to share their information with the recovery center. The leaders of both organizations say they’re working on strategies to increase participation, such as fine-tuning how their staffers communicate with patients.

Still, the state EMS Office lauds the initiative, saying it’s a model for other Vermont communities. 

“The seriousness of the opioid crisis and increasing number of overdoses and deaths necessitates innovation and locally developed solutions,” said Bambi Dame, the state health department’s emergency medical services chief.

She said some groups in Chittenden County are already discussing setting up a similar partnership.

Read the story on VTDigger here: Bennington ambulance service and recovery center team up to reach drug users.

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