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Pharmacists at Tampa veterans hospital complain of understaffing and burnout

Pharmacists in government employees union warn that patient safety is being compromised by management leaving positions vacant.
 
Pharmacists working at the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital passed a vote of no confidence in leadership of the hospital's pharmacy. They say management's decision to leave several positions vacant is risking the health of patients and causing employee burnout.
Pharmacists working at the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital passed a vote of no confidence in leadership of the hospital's pharmacy. They say management's decision to leave several positions vacant is risking the health of patients and causing employee burnout. [ CHRIS URSO | Tampa Bay Times (2010) ]
Published Aug. 4, 2023|Updated Aug. 4, 2023

Citing understaffing and unacceptable working conditions, pharmacists working at a Tampa veterans hospital have passed a vote of no confidence in the hospital’s pharmacy and executive leadership.

Members of the American Federation of Government Employees working as pharmacists at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital described the vote as a last resort to protest a “drastic” increase in their workload due to the departure of several full-time employees, according to a media release sent by the union Friday. Management at the hospital has decided not to fill those positions even after physicians and the chief of pharmacy urged them to do so, the release states.

The result has been increasing rates of employee burnout among the hospital’s pharmacists, said Wanda Bellamy-White, president of AFGE Local 547.

“They don’t get lunch breaks. They don’t get 15-minute breaks,” she said in an interview. “Management gets angry at them for requesting overtime for working through their lunch break.”

The no-confidence vote was passed by more than 90% of members, she said. It was taken after a request by union members for talks with management on the impact to patient care, personal well-being, and mental health were declined, the release said.

Hospital officials said they will continue the hospital’s mission to honor veterans by ensuring “a safe environment to deliver exceptional health care.”

“(The hospital) has been in discussion with pharmacy staff for approximately two years regarding the best alignment of schedules and resources to care for the veterans in the Tampa Bay area,” said spokesperson Regina Zhu in an email. “The staff of (the hospital) are integral, valued members of this organization and leadership remains committed to engaging staff to address their concerns.”

The VA Tampa Healthcare System employs more than 5,000 workers and serves more than 100,000 veterans in Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Polk counties. It is centered around James A. Harley Veterans’ Hospital, a 499-bed facility located on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. The hospital reported 11,042 total admissions and 1.4 million outpatient visits in 2019.

The hospital has separate pharmacies for in- and out-patients.

A high turnover of pharmacists and pharmacist techs prompted the hospital earlier this year to introduce a loyalty bonus of about 10% for employees who stay, Bellamy-White said.

The loss of positions resulted in management proposing changes to working schedules earlier this year, increasing hours and weekend coverage. Union leaders say the changes have negatively impacted 67% of pharmacists working at the hospital. Pharmacists have proposed alternative working schedules and are calling for the rehiring of at least one full-time position.

“Even with union involvement, the pharmacy leadership administration has further refused to actively listen or discuss alternative solutions, leaving the pharmacists feeling unheard and disregarded,” said Marcia Beasley, 2nd vice president of AFGE Local 547. “The persistent culture of moral distress within the section has resulted in struggles to fulfill veterans’ care during the additional weekends of work, with employees having to scramble to find child and adult care.”