The Oregon Health Authority is offering to pay pharmacies $35 for each dose of COVID-19 vaccine they administer, with the intention to boost vaccination rates.
Based on the health authority's database, 79% of people 18 years or older in Oregon have received at least their first vaccine dose.
In addition, the Statesman Journal reports that the program — which launched this month — directly addresses staffing shortages at pharmacies, where growing workloads have resulted in long lines across the state. In some cases, customers have reported having to wait two or three hours to pick up their prescriptions.
The state is offering to pay temporary pharmacists in order to bolster workforces, said Rudy Owens, a public affairs specialist for the Oregon Health Authority.
However, the temporary staffing program is only available to independent pharmacies. Corporate-owned pharmacies are not eligible, but they can still receive vaccine payments from the state.
To qualify for the payments, pharmacies must meet certain standards for “vaccine equity,” including offering multilingual signs for COVID-19 vaccinations, “expanded vaccine-related counseling aimed at boosting vaccine confidence,” and “a plan for ongoing evaluation and continuous improvement to ensure equitable access,” according to a flyer from the health authority.
Owens said the state doesn’t have data yet on how many pharmacies have applied for the supplemental payments.
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Officials say pharmacy staffing shortages have been exacerbated by the closure of more than 35 Bi-Mart pharmacies earlier this month and limited reimbursements that pharmacies receive from what are known as pharmacy benefit managers.
Brian Mayo, executive director of the Oregon State Pharmacy Association, told the Statesman Journal that if those reimbursements were “fair,” pharmacies would be able to hire more employees and lines would be shorter.
Mayo said that due to the staffing crisis community pharmacies across Oregon are five to 14 days behind filling prescriptions because they can’t keep up with the demand.
“The pharmacists, technicians and interns are working as fast as they can,” Mayo said. “In many cases, they are being forced to continue working without required breaks and voluntarily working longer unrecorded hours so they can provide care to their customers. They want to help the patients. That’s why they chose this profession, but it feels like things are getting out of control."