Father of CVS pharmacist who died calls company memo ‘corporate garbage’

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The father of a CVS pharmacist who died after suffering a heart attack at work in 2021 says the industry is not doing enough to change conditions that he says are putting workers and customers’ “lives at risk.” 

Larry Anderson told FOX Business that a CVS memo sent to staff last week acknowledging the USA Today report that exposed his daughter’s death was “corporate garbage” and nothing but “damage control.” 

Ashleigh Anderson suffered a heart attack while working a shift at a CVS store in Seymour, Indiana, in September 2021. Anderson was the only pharmacist on duty the day she collapsed. First responders could not resuscitate her, and she was later pronounced dead at a local hospital. 

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“Maybe circumstances have given me a jaded view, but I think this ‘internal’ memo was created by CVS’ public relations team to be viewed by the public,” Anderson told FOX Business.  

In the memo, CVS Chief Pharmacy Officer Prem Shah said the company was saddened by the 41-year-old’s death, and the company had been making investments to create a “positive work environment” ever since, including enhancing technology to support patient safety, introducing digital innovations to help balance workload, and increasing wages. 

However, Larry Anderson noted that the memo came almost two and a half years after his daughter’s death, underscoring how it was “nothing more than its attempt at damage control given the bad press that they have gotten.”

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While he hopes the company does “regret the death of Ashleigh on a human level,” he reiterated that the “statement of regret comes only after the negative scrutiny.”

“As for the rest of the statement, I don’t, and I doubt if very many CVS employees, believe they are taking meaningful steps to improve the working environment that their employees endure,” he said. 

For years, Larry Anderson has been fighting to keep his daughter’s story alive, from talking to reporters to putting up billboards along the highway in their state of Indiana, in hopes that there will be a monumental change in an industry that has placed tremendous stress on its workers. 

Ashleigh Anderson’s death occurred around that time when the pharmacy industry was under immense pressure from the vaccines and pandemic, causing many to burn out. Pharmacists continue to plead for support, arguing that while staffing levels have fallen, the demands of the job have increased. 

Late last year, many pharmacists across the industry even held walkouts demanding better working conditions.

A Walgreens pharmacist, who was organizing one of the walkouts and spoke to FOX Business last fall on the condition of anonymity, stressed that being this overworked can lead to mistakes and that it can put patient lives at risk.

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WALGREENS PHARMACISTS WALK OUT OVER WORKING CONDITIONS

At one point, Larry Anderson recalled his daughter expressing a similar concern. She told him she was worried that either her or one of her coworkers would fill out the wrong prescription. 

“When you are that tired, and you’re that short-handed, and you’re that far behind, that is a recipe for disaster,” Larry Anderson said. 

Since his daughter’s death, Larry Anderson argued that not much has changed despite the industry claiming it is making improvements. 

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“The only change of some significance that CVS has made since the time of Ashleigh’s death is that they now close the pharmacy for one half hour each day, so the pharmacy team can have a quick lunch, though no provision has been made of the night shift at 24-hour pharmacies,” he continued. 

He is taking it in his own hands to try to make a difference so that other pharmacists do not suffer the same fate. However, he stressed that it is going to take more than just him and a few hundred pharmacists pressuring CVS to make changes. 

“It is our hope that a strong public reaction will help the thousands of hardworking pharmacists and techs force CVS and Walgreens to make changes that no longer put customer’s and employee’s lives at risk,” he said. 

In a statement to FOX Business last week, CVS said it does not want anyone to stay at work if they become ill or experience a health emergency. It also said that the company encourages colleagues to report workplace issues “anonymously if they choose – without fear of retaliation, so we can promptly investigate and take action as needed.” 

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Recognizing that the industry is facing a labor shortage, Walgreens chief pharmacy officer said in a recent LinkedIn post the company is creating an advisory council with the deans of 17 colleges of pharmacy around the nation “to share ideas about how to get students interested in a career in community pharmacy.” 

“The pharmacy operating model needs to evolve, and pharmacy school deans are critical partners in helping Walgreens and the industry overall solve for the current workplace challenges that are also impacting pharmacy school enrollment,” Walgreens Boost Alliance said in a release. 

Representatives for Rite Aid have not immediately responded to FOX Business’ request for comment. 

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