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.