By Conor McCue

DENVER (CBS4) – A combination of COVID-19 cases and staffing shortages is leading to growing frustration with Walgreens’ locations across the Front Range. In the last week, viewers have alerted CBS4 to issues with long lines, shortened hours, and sporadic closings at the chain’s pharmacies.

For more than three decades, Eric Braden has counted on Walgreens for every prescription, but lately he’s grown frustrated.

“It’s really too bad to see it going downhill this way,” Braden said.

(credit: CBS)

According to Braden, long lines and a sudden closure kept him from getting an important prescription last Thursday. The next day, there was another issue.

“I went back, and they had posted a sign saying, ‘pharmacy closed today, no pharmacist available,'” Braden said.

Other viewers have shared stories of multiple day closures and staffing shortages at Walgreens locations near them. On Wednesday, the company acknowledged the challenges some of its locations are facing in a statement to CBS4.

“While the vast majority of our stores are open and operating with normal business hours, the ongoing labor shortage combined with the surge of COVID-19 cases has resulted in isolated instances in which we’ve had to adjust operating hours or temporarily close a limited number of stores,” said Kris Lathan with Walgreens media relations.

“It is a perfect storm right now, to be honest with you,” said Emily Zadvorny, Executive Director of the Colorado Pharmacists Society, a nonprofit professional association which represents about 800 pharmacists, technicians, and associated pharmacy professionals around the state.

According to Zadvorny, both corporate and independent pharmacies are struggling with illness and labor shortages at this point in the pandemic. Another major challenge right now is burnout.

“They’re leaving or they’re looking for something different or better, so that’s exacerbating the shortage that existed to begin with,” Zadvorny said.

At Harris Pharmacy in Rocky Ford, Colorado, pharmacist Ky Davis is not seeing as much employee turnover. Davis, who is also a board member with RxPlus, the largest group of independent pharmacies in Colorado, said the spread of COVID-19 remains among his biggest worries for his business.

(credit: CBS)

“If you can’t have a pharmacist in the store, the store just has to close,” Davis said.

According to Davis, any closures can affect the bottom line, as well as patients’ health.

“It creates barriers to care where people can’t get pharmacy care,” Davis said. “In a rural area where I’m at, that’s an even bigger issue.”

In Denver, Eric Braden felt that barrier, albeit briefly. He’s since changed pharmacies and has no regrets.

“It’s disappointing because this has been an important resource that we’ve relied on for years, as have many people in the community,” Braden said.

When closing stores or altering hours, Walgreens selects days with the lowest prescription demand and ensures there’s a nearby pharmacy that can meet any immediate prescription needs, a spokesperson said.

Customers can also call 1-800-Walgreens for help with their prescription needs.

Conor McCue