In a move that is at odds with Canada’s great health care system, Alberta Health Services has recently decided to outsource the outpatient pharmacies at three Hospitals to the very profit-oriented Shoppers Drug Mart.Employees at Alberta Children’s Hospital, the Foothills Medical Center and the Peter Lougheed Center are unhappy at this development and they are warning the public that the level of care being provided to patients has been compromised.
This is often the case when commercial profit comes into the health care arena. Shoppers Drug Mart is looking to slash wages of any new hires while expecting the same output from the high-speed, high-pressure pharmacy jobs. Not only will Shoppers Drug Mart pay new hires between $6,000 and $10,000 less per year less than current employees make for the same work. The new employer also wants to impose a three-year wage freeze for those employees now working in the hospital pharmacies, as well as large reductions in sick leave, vacation, pensions and maternity/paternity benefits.
Laine Burlingham, the Labour Relations Officer at the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, is our aged. “Such a drastic lowering of wages and working conditions will inevitably lead to a decline in morale and the levels of care provided to patients at these Calgary locations,” she said. As the employees at these hospitals will be earning less than their colleagues at other hospitals, the chances are high that they will transfer to better-paid positions leaving these three Alberta hospitals in dire straits, unable to maintain the levels of service that patients in Calgary now receive and have come to expect.
“Shoppers Drug Mart wants to treat these pharmacies like its retail outlets at your local mall and pay comparable wages,” Burlingham points out. “But this ignores the fact that the work done at these outpatient pharmacies is highly specialized and requires extra training and certification. They handle complex medical situations that don’t arise at retail outlets.”
According to their website their 2011 sales were approximately $10.5 billion and they boast that the Company is the leader in Canada’s retail drug store marketplace. It is also, they say, the number one provider of pharmacy products and services. Shoppers Drug Mart enjoys a leadership position in pharmacy with many convenient store locations which help it capture a significant share of the market in “front store merchandise, including over-the-counter medications, health and beauty aids, cosmetics and fragrances, seasonal products and everyday household essentials.”
Is this belt-tightening necessary? Hardly.Just this week Shoppers Drug Mart reported that its year-to-date sales are up 2.7% and now total over $8 billion.What was Alberta Health Services thinking?
“There is no acceptable reason for Shoppers Drug Mart to be undermining health-care standards for Calgary patients.”