Pharmacy line

Customers line up Monday morning, Nov. 1 at the Rite Aid store in Baker City, waiting for the pharmacy to open at 10 a.m. The pharmacy reduced its hours on Sept. 24 due to "staffing issues," according to a sign at the store.

Baker County officials have talked with the state about potential options if local pharmacies need help with a temporary staffing shortage.

Jason Yencopal, the county’s emergency management director, said he has talked with the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) about the possibility of providing pharmacy workers if necessary.

As of Monday, Nov. 1, no Baker City pharmacies had contacted the county seeking help with staffing, Yencopal said.

The pharmacy at the Baker City Bi-Mart store is slated to close Nov. 9; the store itself will remain open.

That would leave the county with three pharmacies, in the Safeway, Albertsons and Rite Aid stores.

Helen Loennig, pharmacist and pharmacy manager at Bi-Mart, said she’s “really worried about what’s going to happen” when the Bi-Mart pharmacy closes and many prescriptions are transferred to one of the remaining pharmacies.

Loennig also sent an email to Nancy Staten, director of the Baker County Health Department, regarding the situation.

“We are about to have a Pharmacy Health Crisis,” Loennig wrote in the Oct. 27 email to Staten.

Loennig said in a previous interview with the Herald that the Bi-Mart pharmacy has been processing about 1,500 prescriptions per week.

In addition to the transferring of prescriptions from the Bi-Mart pharmacy, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s vaccination mandate, which took effect Oct. 18, could also have an effect on staffing, Loennig said.

The mandate applies to pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.

Loennig said two of the seven employees at the Bi-Mart pharmacy in Baker City had left their jobs due to the mandate.

According to the OHA, as of Oct. 4, 87% of pharmacists in Oregon were vaccinated, and 82% of pharmacy technicians.

On Monday morning, Nov. 1, several customers waited in line at the Baker City Rite Aid store, where the pharmacy opens at 10 a.m.

One of the waiting customers, Roberta Vanderwall, said “It’s sad.”

“I feel bad for the employees because they’re being cut back and then they can’t get help and then people get grouchy with the employees and it’s not fair,” Vanderwall said. “It’s not fair what’s going on.”

Another customer, Sherrie Richardson, said a pharmacy employee told her last week that they were “14 days behind on their prescriptions. I think they are doing the best they can.”

Customer Shelly Thoms said: “Literally every place in this town is doing this; they don’t have enough people.”

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