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.
After the fall of Roe, physicians confronted their toughest year working in reproductive health care
By Rachel Crumpler
After graduating from a medical school in the Northeast, Caledonia Buckheit came south to Duke University Hospital to complete her obstetrics and gynecology residency. She finished up last June and found work in North Carolina — ready to provide comprehensive reproductive health care to patients, including abortion.
Just weeks after finishing, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The June 24 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization eliminated the constitutional right to abortion that had existed for nearly half a century.
“Controlling women’s bodies has always been a topic but I didn’t really think it would get to this,” Buckheit said.
Suddenly, working in reproductive health care got a lot more complicated.
“It’s just been really disheartening, feeling like my patients have less autonomy,” said Buckheit, a general OB-GYN working at a private practice in the Triangle.
Even for those who have been practicing for years, like OB-GYN Amy Bryant, it’s unquestionable that the past year has been the most challenging and exhausting time to be in the reproductive health care field.
Since the fall of Roe, the legal landscape has been continuously shifting. Abortion providers across the nation and in North Carolina have had to adjust their practices to stay within the bounds of the law.
“When I think back to the early days after the Dobbs decision after Roe v. Wade was overturned, I just really think about the chaos and the uncertainty and the difficulties that we confronted, like, almost instantaneously with this new law of the land,” Bryant said. “It was truly just kind of scary.”
Beverly Gray, another long-time OB-GYN who works with many high-risk and complicated pregnancies, said she was startled by how quickly some neighboring states took action to cut access to abortion. For months, North Carolina — and its 14 abortion clinics located in nine counties — became a critical abortion access point in the Southeast, providing care to an increased number of out-of-state patients.
In August, North Carolina physicians had to adjust their practices for the first time following the Dobbs decision when a federal judge reinstated North Carolina’s 20-week abortion ban, citing the disappearance of constitutional protections on the procedure. The ruling cut the window of time pregnant people had for seeking abortions in the state from fetal viability, which typically falls between 24 and 26 weeks of pregnancy.
The loss of those weeks was palpable for abortion providers like Gray who had to turn patients beyond 20 weeks away — patients she could previously care for. In her practice, she said those patients mainly consisted of people who received a diagnosis of severe birth defects.
“We didn’t know when the law might change and how we were going to respond if somebody was already scheduled and ready to go and they’d come from eight hours away,” Bryant said. “We didn’t know if we would still be able to care for them or not. That was just not a good way to practice medicine.”
Next month, once again, a change in law will necessitate people who work in reproductive health care to alter their practices to conform to new constraints on their work.
Even a month after Senate Bill 20 was passed and the veto overridden, there are still more changes, as just this past week, the state Senate added an amendment to a separate bill that clarifies some of the timing of restrictions.
Gray said it’s not normal for physicians to have to significantly rethink how they practice, especially so many times over the span of one year. She emphasized that practice changes are being dictated by an arbitrary change in law, not as a result of improved medical guidelines.
“It’s completely disruptive to our practice, to our lives, to our day-to-day,” Gray said.
It’s a heavy load to carry — added stresses and tasks that Gray said most other physicians don’t have to experience.
“It’s really just exhausting on so many levels because I’m doing all that and at the same time still providing care, still doing all the other work that’s required as a physician and now it’s just all these extra layers,” Gray said.
When Gray decided to go to medical school, she never thought her role as an OB-GYN would involve so much advocacy and parsing new laws, but that’s what it’s turned into in the post-Dobbs period.
Bryant agrees that the role has changed significantly over the past year.
“I have spent so much time poring over the legal issues related to my work,” she said. “It is not what I would like to be doing.
“I think that pregnancy is just far too complicated to be legislated. And when nonmedical professionals start to try to legislate it, it becomes even more complicated to really understand the nuance — to be able to address the nuances in the individual situations that arise when a person becomes pregnant. This is not in any way what I expected my life to become.”
Buckheit, the new OB-GYN, didn’t expect lawmakers would be dictating how she can do her job, either. And she believes they may have written the law differently if they interacted with pregnant patients on a daily basis.
“I truly feel that if lawmakers spent a week at Planned Parenthood or spent a week in a high-risk OB-GYN office, they would have a really different take,” Buckheit said. “There’s so much complexity and nuance to what we see and what patients and families are going through.”
For example, she’s had to read the state-mandated counseling script 72 hours before an abortion to patients whose babies have serious fetal anomalies.
“It’s like, adoption is an option, parenting is an option,” Buckheit said. “I’m saying this to someone whose baby doesn’t have a brain. It’s just so cruel.”
The work, particularly in an environment of tightening restrictions, also takes an emotional toll.
“Living in this world now where basic health protections are no longer in place is very difficult,” Bryant said. “Obviously, for patients and also for providers who experience a whole lot of moral distress, knowing that you can care for someone yet not be able to because lawyers, legislators, the courts are telling you that you can’t. It’s a really uncomfortable and distressing place to be.”
Gray and Bryant can’t help but think about the patients they’ve cared for recently and consider whether the same options will be available after July 1.
It’s a devastating reality, Gray said, to know she still has the same skills to help patients in an array of situations but her hands will soon be tied by new rules where she will have to turn some people away she could previously care for.
“I think every single patient that we’re able to care for is meaningful and important, and we’re able to help change the trajectory of people’s lives,” Gray said. “I worry about all of those people that didn’t make the exceptions [to the new rules], but still have really important things that are happening in their lives and the lack of compassion for the people that didn’t make these arbitrary exceptions. It’s heartbreaking.”
Despite the more burdensome and taxing legal landscape, those providing reproductive health care remain committed to providing as much access as possible. The patients are the motivation.
“I feel this immense responsibility to get it right and to still be able to provide care for people,” Gray said. “There’s a huge stress and responsibility.”
Tell us your story about abortion access
NC Health News will be continuing to cover the effects of increased abortion restrictions in the months ahead and the best way for us to do that is with your help — hearing concrete examples of how you are navigating the new law. Have you been affected by new abortion restrictions as a medical professional or a patient? NC Health News is interested in hearing your experience.