WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Thousands of pharmacists walked off the job this week across the country over concerns about work treatment. This adds to an already growing strain in the industry dealing with a lack of pharmacists and comes at a time when people are flooding into drug stores to get prescriptions and vaccines.

“Pharmacy technicians and pharmacy staff are the unheralded heroes of pharmacies. They make pharmacies go,” said pharmacy owner Dared Price.

In the state of Kansas, pharmacies are struggling to fill the pharmacy technician positions, and a contributing factor is the lack of pay.

“It’s very difficult to find a pharmacy technician right now. The pay rates aren’t probably what they should be,” Amanda Applegate, director of practice development for the Kansas Pharmacists Association, said. “A lot pharmacy chains and independent pharmacies have been working on increasing the pay rates for those pharmacy technicians specifically because it’s a health care professional job and should be paid at a health care professional rate.”

Sales and quality wages for employees are always just part of the issue for pharmacies trying to keep the doors open. Price says it’s the Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBM) and third-party companies that are making day-to-day operations more difficult.

“Some of the middlemen in healthcare who decide on what employers pay, what patients pay and what pharmacies get paid are doing really well,” said Price.

Price expressed his frustrations with the PBMs and the impact all of this is having on a local level.

“If the large chains are having issues with that (PBM’s), how are smaller community pharmacies in these smaller rural communities in Kansas supposed to make it,” said Price.

Beyond a national strike or walkout, a growing trend for years affecting pharmacies is the fact that there aren’t enough students graduating or completing pharmacy school, especially locally out of the Kansas Medical system.

“The overall applications to pharmacy schools are just down,” said Applegate. “They can take up to around 150 students per year. This year, I think the classes are around 80 to 90 pharmacists.”

The KPA is pushing for more recruitment to get people into the field, trying to fix the shortage in the future.