Who does the OPA really represent? billbrownblog.com January 24/2019

I recently watched the YouTube video which the OPA published entitled The Voice of Pharmacy.  Here is the link: https://youtu.be/IFd47I5udgA

It is over an hour long so you do have to invest some time.  Let me say at the outset that this piece is not meant to be a criticism of the video or the OPA.  In fact I was impressed with the sincerity and candor that was displayed by the three presenters, always in a frank and unscripted manner.  The video did reinforce a clear conclusion to me though.

For those who may be interested, here is a brief summary of the contents of the video from my perspective.  I believe the video clarifies who the OPA advocates for, though I am not sure if this was the intent of the video.

The video title is The Voice of Pharmacy, which surfaces the first question.  What is meant by ‘pharmacy’?

The presenters emphasize that the OPA represents the interests of both large corporations (non-pharmacist owned), and independent pharmacist owners. In fact the last several chairmen have all been independent owners from Small Town Canada.

The important Owners’ Council is made up of 24 members, 12 each from ‘corporate pharmacy’ & independent owners.  The emphasis is on representing the “pharmacy system” while it was not made totally clear what ‘system’ actually means.

There is also a clear message that the advocacy effort is with government and pretty well always involves economic issues that affect pharmacy owners.

Although the Owners” Council is self-sustaining, efforts to set up a Pharmacists’ Council made up of staff pharmacists have not been successful.  There was little uptake, and the whole effort is in hiatus at present.  Problem is that these unrepresented retail pharmacist employees apparently have little flexibility to attend meetings.  These individuals represent 80% of the 16 to 17 thousand licensed pharmacists in Ontario today.  It may also be that employers (BPR) are not that nuts about facilitating employee pharmacists attending meetings about issues like compensation & working conditions.

The OPA positions itself as representing the interests of owners, pharmacists, technicians and students.  Multiple approaches and diversity are what this is described as.

Not their fault, but the OPA admits it really has no negotiating power or authority to deal with government, or anyone else for that matter.  The government is just being nice in meeting with the OPA; it does not have to, and when it does, all discussion are covered by a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).  So no one really know what goes on behind the scene.

The video reveals that in original discussions with the government about the flu shot, the government initially wanted to reimburse zero for administering the flu shot.  The government’s argument being that the pharmacy would more than make up for any costs through increased store traffic and thereby sell more frozen pizzas, Cold-Fx, fat flushes, cough syrups, lamb chops, barbequed chickens etc.  The OPA prides itself in finally negotiating a begrudging $7.50 fee…it could have been zero.  Fact is, most pharmacists hate giving the flu shot (a technical act), but pharmacy owners, especially Big Pharmacy Retail (BPR) love them for the very reason government stated…increased store traffic, marginal no cost revenues & quotas to ensure targets are met.  Flu shots may be a small win for pharmacy owners, but the bane of employee pharmacists.  When government thinks of pharmacy it sees Big Pharmacy Retail, not individual healthcare professionals.

Then this zinger.  Apparently the two key initiatives which bind all pharmacy stakeholders together are: Preferred Provider Networks and Cannabis distribution from which pharmacists are presently excluded. What?

Some might have thought that compensation down 40-50%, ever increasing quotas, abysmal working conditions, 12 hour shifts, no breaks, random terminations/job security, no tech support, little or no respect from the employer, might have made the list of issues on the minds of at least some pharmacists today.  Nope.  None of these make the list of issues of concern to the OPA today.  The word ‘quotas’ never came up once in the over one hour video.

And therein lies the problem.  The OPA is a voluntary organization which depends on member fees for survival and credibility, but membership is probably less than 50%.  In an effort to represent the “Pharmacy System”, whatever this term means, the OPA fails to address the everyday issues which affect 80% of potential members.  In fact, these everyday issues are largely the result of the loss of control of the profession to non-pharmacist owned mega corporations…who sit on the very Owners Council in order to ensure their corporate interests are protected.

Really, one has to feel sorry for the OPA; it simply cannot win this game, and it’s not for lack of trying or hard work.  These are good people; they are just misguided.  Why not simply rename itself the Ontario Pharmacy Owners Association, charge $5,000 a year membership fees and then get on with it.

How can the OPA ever hope to garner the support of everyday working community pharmacists who suffer the consequences of issues and policies of other members (BPR) of the very same organization?

The lamb and the lion cannot sleep together