Essential & Black: A Pharmacy Technician In Rochester, NY Who Lives Paycheck to Paycheck
"One of my biggest fears is getting sick and bringing it home to my mom who is disabled and has a lot of health issues."
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Illustration by Octavia of Pretty In Ink Press for Coronavirus News for Black Folks
Amid global social distancing efforts sparked by the coronavirus outbreak, select businesses and services deemed essential have remained open to keep our society functioning. Many of these jobs are often low-paying with little-to-no benefits and mostly performed by Black and brown women. “Essential & Black” is an ongoing interview series that spotlights the Black essential workers risking their lives to protect ours and to support themselves and their loved ones during this pandemic.
Who: A 31- year-old Black woman. She lives with her mother and has preexisting medical conditions, including asthma, that put her at a higher risk for more severe complications from COVID-19.
Essential Job: Pharmacy technician of 13 years who currently works at Walgreens, the second-largest pharmacy store chain in the United States.
Location: Rochester, NY
Work schedule: She leaves for work at 9AM and returns home at 1PM. Responsible for about 100 customers a day.
“They gave us face masks and put up some flimsy barriers around the registers.
We have to use our face masks twice before getting a new one. As a pharmacy tech, I deal with customers up close and personal all the time, whether I’m checking out people in the drive-thru or on the registers or just answering patient questions. One of my biggest fears is getting sick and bringing it home to my mom who is disabled and has a lot of health issues. If she contracts the virus, it could be deadly.”
“My job is very physically and emotionally demanding.
We are standing on our feet all day, helping patient after patient. I don’t mind doing my job because I love working with and helping people, especially those disenfranchised by society. I show up for work because people need their medications and, for some people, a couple of days without their medications could be deadly.”
But the hardest part of my job is helping people navigate insurance issues that prevent them from getting the medications they need to manage their conditions and stay healthy. Imagine telling someone with HIV that they cannot get their medications when they need it because the insurance is requiring a prior authorization. Or imagine telling a diabetes patient they cannot get their insulin right now because it needs a refill authorization from the doctor who we’ve faxed multiple times. It’s ridiculous.
We’re typically the brunt of people’s anger and frustration, but I do not blame them. The whole healthcare system is broken, and healthcare professionals and policy makers need to do better by the people who keep them employed.”
“Instead of giving us proper raises during the coronavirus outbreak, our job’s giving us a pitiful excuse for ‘hazard pay.’
I am sorry, but an extra $300 to 500 a month is not enough, especially if I contract the virus and die. That probably won't even cover the cost of a proper casket. But the higher-ups who make these decisions are not on the front lines like us. They don’t need to leave their homes to do their jobs, and they probably don’t need the money like we do. We deserve better.
I live paycheck to paycheck. Even when I was working 30+ hours, I still struggled to pay all my bills. They could pay us pharmacy technicians more, especially considering all that we do. Pharmacy technicians are the lifeblood of pharmacies. Without us, pharmacies couldn't operate. The pharmacists would be completely overwhelmed.”
“The narrative around healthcare workers on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19 is dominated and told by white people.
That's just the nature of our society and the country in which we live. But we are out here and we are working just as hard as everyone else. And because of the various systemic barriers and inequalities in accessing quality healthcare for people of color, we are disproportionately affected by chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes, which makes us exceptionally and dangerously vulnerable to contracting and having serious complications from or dying from the coronavirus disease.”
“I hope that this virus goes away as fast as it came.
I am praying and sending good vibes to all of us. We are in this together. But please also remember that the people who are working during the pandemic are essential workers and they deserve your respect, even if you’re simply buying something from them or being provided a utility or service.”
More from the Essential & Black series:
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