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Seattle pharmacies prepare customers for medication delays, staffing shortages

Seattle residents wanting to fill a prescription may be met with long lines or closed doors.

SEATTLE — Seattle residents wanting to fill a prescription may be met with long lines or closed doors and those looking for over-the-counter medicine may find empty shelves as pharmacies face delays and staffing shortages.

Bartell Drugs is alerting customers to product shortages with signs posted throughout their stores.

"Pharmacies are facing challenges with supply chain like every other industry right now," said Jenny Arnold, a pharmacist and CEO of the Washington State Pharmacy Association.

Arnold said shipping and truck driver shortages are partly to blame. Truck drivers in western Washington who are able to work were unable to get over the passes last week furthering the problem. 

Because pharmacists are highly skilled and trained, the answer isn't as simple as hiring more staff. 

"There are important safety checks that go on behind the counter both to make sure that there are no drug interactions with the medication, that of all the hundreds of medicines that the pharmacy has in there, that they've picked the right one for you," said Arnold.

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In an email statement, Bartell Drugs said their prescription medications supply has not been impacted by shipping and staff shortages, but wait times to fill prescriptions could fluctuate.

The drug store chain also said they plan to close several locations one hour earlier to allow pharmacy teams to prepare for the next day.

"There's a lot of bottlenecks in healthcare right now that patients are having to deal with. And by the time they get to the pharmacy, they're tired. They've had enough and I understand that," said Arnold. 

Arnold said once omicron cases peak, hopefully patients will see things level off.

In the meantime, Arnold suggests customers plan ahead up to five days ahead or even longer if they get a 90-day supply of medication. 

"So they can be sure that the pharmacy has time to both make sure there are no payment issues and to get refills from their providers' office, because that office may be delayed for issuing refill authorizations," said Arnold. 

Many pharmacies are also closing early to allow staff time to fill prescriptions.