From: Pharmacist Steve. CVS cracks the whip. Pharmacist Cracks Back

Jp Enlarged

Ex-pharmacist accuses CVS of risking patient safety

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -Joe Zorek will proudly tell you he’s been in the pharmacy business for 43 years. Do the math and you’ll realize the 59-year-old started at the tender age of 16.

“I used to stock shelves and clean the awnings at a store in Steelton,” Zorek remembers fondly. “Steelton had a lot of pigeons in those days.”

From stock boy, to pharmacy tech, to pharmacy school, to pharmacist-in-charge, Zorek rose through the ranks of a profession he loves. But his mood changes when discussing the state of the industry today.

He was until recently the pharmacist-in-charge at the Paxton Square CVS in suburban Harrisburg, one of the busiest in the region. He says about a year ago his relationship with management soured when supervisors ordered him to cut staff hours and “pick up the pace.”

“It was like a harassing call every day saying, ‘we got another patient complaining about long lines,’ ” Zorek said. “I said, ‘I understand that.’ I said, ‘we don’t have the bodies to get them out fast enough.’ ”

Zorek says the stress was palpable among his staff. And, he says, mistakes were made. He says he protested to his bosses.

“I kept saying ‘patient safety. We gotta take care of the patients. We’re making errors,’ ” he said.

That’s when Zorek says things started to change. He claims his bosses tried to demote him. He refused. Last July, he says the stress and his multiple sclerosis forced him to take medical leave.

He believes the attempted demotion was CVS retaliating against him for raising patient safety concerns, so he filed a whistleblower lawsuit in Dauphin County court.

CVS lawyers, in response documents filed in Dauphin County, deny Zorek’s claims and say private companies are not subject to the whistleblower act. Zorek’s attorney, Lynne Bernabei, disagrees.

“If you get Medicare funds, as CVS clearly does, you can be subject to the whistleblower act,” she said.

Zorek, who has been on medical leave since last July but remained the pharmacist-in-charge until recently, says former staffers tell him that prescription mistakes continue and once they were told to cover it up.

“They were to keep it hush-hush, that unless the patient brought it to the attention of the pharmacy, it didn’t happen,” he said.

CVS denies wrongdoing. CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis issued a statement that said the health and safety of customers is the chain’s “number one priority.”

“We have comprehensive policies and procedures in place to ensure prescription safety,” DeAngelis said in the statement. “We deny the allegations in Mr. Zorek’s suit and we intend to defend this case vigorously.”

Brenda Henninger, a CVS customer, says an incorrect prescription was given to her.

“I looked at the pill and it didn’t look right,” Henninger said.

She is a longtime friend and patient of Zorek. Even though the pharmacist was on medical leave, Brenda called him at home to discuss the mistake.

“They gave me potassium chloride which is not the same pill at potassium citrate,” she said. “He (Zorek) was like, ‘oh, don’t take it, don’t take it.’ ”

Zorek insists it’s not an isolated incident.

“For them to say they’re not making mistakes, that is a bold-faced lie on their part,” he said.

Zorek is preparing for his day in court and he’s expecting CVS to say he just couldn’t handle the busiest store in the area.

“Fine. Go for it. Do it. At the same time, I’m gonna yell at the top of my lungs, ‘you gotta start taking care of these people before we really hurt somebody badly,’ ” he said.

Zorek says he has spoken with investigators from the state attorney general’s office and the Department of State, which licenses pharmacies. Spokesmen from both agencies, as is their custom, would neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.



  1. Peon  •  May 31, 2012 @8:57 pm

    I did a Yahoo People search and found Joe’s address and phone number. I phoned Joe Zorek and talked to him for several minutes. Seems like a really nice guy.
    Joseph W Zorek
    1524 Ridgeview Ln
    Harrisburg, PA 17110
    (717) 236-0731
    The local TV station is doing an interview of him. I don’t know if we will be able to see it on their website. They do have a printed story:
    Folks, I think it will be worth keeping up to date on this story. Looks like it will be a big one.

  2. Pharmaciststeve  •  May 31, 2012 @9:26 pm

    I will be losing sleep over the fact that such a UPSTANDING COMPANY – like CVS — is having such a problem :-( NOT!

  3. Peon  •  May 31, 2012 @9:40 pm

    The executive at CVS wears a holster with a gun in it. He practices his quick draw every day. He said he was getting ready for a gunfight in Dodge City at the OK Corral. I kept trying to tell him that the Old West no longer existed and that he could not keep playing like a wild cowboy. But, he ignored me, and he ignored his secretary when she tried to give him his meds: Geodon, Seroquel, Xanax, and Imipramine(for his bed wetting).
    Everyone should feel sorry for him. He cannot help the way he is. We need to start a donation drive for him. He is going to need all the money he can get when all these lawyers get hold of him. :)

  4. bcmigal  •  May 31, 2012 @9:53 pm

    It is great to see the positive comments after the local article. The oppressive concentration on the metrics and negligible focus on patient care are an accident waiting to happen. When I brought an error to the attention of the typist, his answer was that we are too busy to worry about that. I was told by the DM that I was making too big a deal out of mistakes. Silly me! What was iI thinking?
    The Typist? There is only once appropriate response. “That is not your job, man. It is not your call and never has been your call. It is the pharmacist’s call and my call is to fix it now. It makes a difference if it is capsules or tablets. Now fix it or your career is over when I file an official complaint with the state board of pharmacy. Slow down and get accurate with your typing and start now.” Your DM isn’t even in this loop. The RPh is the last call. If the DM wants to make the call then he needs to get his ass into the store and work.

  5. Pharmaciststeve  •  May 31, 2012 @10:04 pm

    Here is Merlo… Bloviate about how wonderful CVS is.. and its business model .. is the future…

  6. Peon  •  May 31, 2012 @11:27 pm

    Steve, that video of Merlo had so much ‘bull’ in it that I thought I was crossing a cow pasture. Can’t imagine the guy interviewing him being such an idiot.

  7. MAP  •  Jun 1, 2012 @1:10 am

    Imagine if every CVS pharmacist and every pharmacist from every other retail pharmacy were to start submitting the proof for these errors…perhaps performing a “print screen” with all the info regarding the error(s). Imagine performing a “print screen” at various times throughout the day to document with date and time clearly on the page how many prescriptions in each kind of que. Imagine collecting all of this documentation and presenting it to an organization or group to prove all the errors are taking place in every state in every city. I think we’d be looking at a class-action law suite against the offending pharmacies.

    Let’s start gathering the documentation and putting together a case. Anyone interested?

    You are the poster girl for “Activist”. Why not you? You are a leader. Write your idea, with a plan, and I will put it up on the main page here. Once started, you may want to start a new e-mail account. You want to stay anonymous until you throw your “Wrecking Ball”.

  8. MAP  •  Jun 1, 2012 @1:14 am

    I meant law suit not law suite…thinking faster than I can type.

    I’m going steal someone else’s line I recently heard or read from the internet. The retail pharmacy isn’t really a pharmacy. It’s hell with fluorescent lighting — oh how accurate the description!

  9. Pharmaciststeve  •  Jun 1, 2012 @5:29 pm
  10. Me  •  Jun 1, 2012 @8:43 pm

    I used to be a regular at that CVS. I’ve never been given the wrong meds but holy cow there was such a long slooow line every time. I’ve dealt with Mr. Zorek a few times and he is extremely nice. It was obvious he cared about his job.

  11. McPharmacist  •  Jun 1, 2012 @11:24 pm

    Deny Deny Deny…typical corporate BS.

    I bet their next step, if he didn’t file a lawsuit, would have been letting him go based on the amount of past mistakes he has made (because they can’t find another reason). We are required to report the mistakes we make, which they track, so they can use it against us later to get rid of us if we “can’t keep up” or meet their metrics that they push. I wonder how many mistakes don’t get reported due to fears of it being used as firing ammo….

  12. MAP  •  Jun 3, 2012 @8:47 pm

    I’ll start working on a plan. First, I’ll take some time to prepare to make sure things stay anonymous. I’m open for some suggestions. The documents would have to identify the store number which can give an investigator lots of information. The documents would then need to be sorted by state and these details shared with a trusted official in each state. Print screens would give the date and time printed — details about the shift, # of techs, etc. would have to be written by the documenting pharmacist.

  13. Pharmaciststeve  •  Jun 3, 2012 @9:21 pm


    you stated : When I brought an error to the attention of the typist, his answer was that we are too busy to worry about that. I was told by the DM that I was making too big a deal out of mistakes.

    when a tech wants to ARGUE with me about what I want/need done.. my normal response is….


  14. Pharmaciststeve  •  Jun 3, 2012 @9:27 pm

    @Map… run them thru me… I can cut/paste the info .. so that no IP/MAC address – except mine .. will show up…
    I don’t work for any of the BIG BOYS and no allegiance to any of the corporate masters.

  15. It's everywhere....  •  Jun 3, 2013 @10:03 pm

    Preface: I’m someone who has worked in over 30 separate CVS’s over the last 10-15 years, migrating through 4 regions 6 districts, and picking up hours at a handful of stores in those areas.

    I can certainly say, it happens everywhere. It happens more often now, than in the past.

    1) More people are taking more prescriptions than ever before.
    2) At CVS, there are more metrics/tasks than ever before keeping the staff busy.

    One would think that if you had more things to do, you’d be given more time to do it. That, however, is not so.

    CVS has adhered to a strict level of hours consistently in its pharmacies regardless of how large or small the pharmacy is. Regardless of how many employees actually worked in them to divide up the tasks.
    Eleven scripts per tech hour.

    Unless you’re a training store, in a ridiculous store (6000+ rx’s/week) or blowing the Pharmacy Supe, that’s all you’re getting. CVS says “the system is designed to work perfectly at that magic number in a pharmacy full of trained staff who know proper workflow.”

    If you had a slow week, and you used up all of your hours, you have to pay them back the next week. A “nice” woman will call you and gladly remind you to slash your schedule by X hours. Now, you will have less man hours the following week.

    Why is this bad?

    Say it’s a rainy/snowy week. You’ve got less customers coming through the door because humans can’t be bothered to get wet in the process of picking up medicine (in our genetics, I think). Now, all those rx bags sitting in your pickup area piling up.

    You spent all week making “Come by and pick it up, and can I fill some other stuff from your profile while I have you on the phone?” phone calls reminding people they had medicine there. Or, at least you better be telling your DM that.

    Now that the rain/snow shitstorm we concocted for this hypothetical scenario has stopped, people are coming in with prescriptions they’ve been sitting on.

    Guess who’s filling them?


    The cashier got their hours cut, now your filling tech is at the register for 1/2 to 2/3 of their shift instead of counting pills. Don’t worry, though, because your typist will pull all the drugs and stack them in baskets for the QP tech when they finally get back to filling.

    Why doesn’t your typist fill them? Well, because your typist is at the Drive-thru. Remember, that cashier was responsible for two jobs already, not just one. Now, it’s divided by 2 people who each already had 2 jobs. Now, your typist has to do “pre-entry” (Type HALF of the RX) at the drive-through. Then, go back to data entry, and type the other half of those same rx’s later, in between other rx’s that come in from inside. They’re tracking pre-entry, to make sure it’s being done this way. Talk about asinine…

    The good thing about it, is that the filling tech will also be the one at the register to answer to all the people they personally shorted on RX’s…
    “Sorry Mr. Smith, I only gave you one bottle of Nexium instead of three. I remember fucking it up myself because this company forces me to do two jobs instead of one, but today I have three. Here’s a $25 gift card for making you come all the way back down here a second time, because CVS deeply cares about your time.”
    “Sorry Mrs. Nguyen, I forgot to add the second half of water to your kids antibiotic and it came out like orange, propane smelling clay. I can’t imagine why the kid won’t just chew it and choke it down. Here’s a new bottle, and a $25 gift card, because bullshit bullshit bullshit.”

    These are serious problems that CVS has and won’t address. I’ve talked about it and even people in the actual pharmacies don’t want to be heard discussing it, because of the fear of wrath from someone above on the corporate ladder. If I had a dollar for every “You’re lucky that you have a job in this economy.” sentiment from management, I wouldn’t need to work.

    They simply don’t care. They have dollar signs in their eyes. CVS’s profit has gone up by over a billion dollars a year for the last few now. Each year, they make a billion+ more dollars than the previous year.
    They’re forcing more work, paying no more income, and taking billions more because of it.

    I really wish someone would take them down a peg or 20 billion with a lawsuit about how they’re putting profit over patients safety. It’s just a shame that there’s no protection given for whistle-blowers who live paycheck-to-paycheck.

    Thank you for this blog. You just ruined my night though, by forcing me to type this. It’s fucking depressing.

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