PHOENIX — Nearly a third of those licensed over two years by the state Pharmacy Board never had their backgrounds checked to ensure they were qualified, according to a new report.
State Auditor General Debbie Davenport said her staff checked 40 licenses and permits issued over two years. She said they found 12 instances where the board did not ensure applicants met all the requirements.
“By doing so, the board was at risk for issuing licenses and permits to nonqualified applicants,” Davenport wrote in her report to the Legislature.
Davenport said while the board has taken some steps since her investigation started to deal with the problem, it still does not have a process in place to ensure that only those qualified are dispensing drugs.
But Hal Wand, the board's executive director, said he knows of no instance — and the auditors did not cite one — where anyone who was clearly unqualified was given a state license to dispense prescription drugs.
“I think its record keeping,” he said.
Wand said the board did make background checks, albeit by phone, but did not get the documents proving someone's education or training. Wand, however, said he recognizes that the lack of a paper trail is a problem.
“I used to write up pharmacies for the very same thing,” he said in his role as a field inspector. “If you don't document it, it didn't happen.”
Davenport said the board and it staff do appear to do a good job of inspecting pharmacies as well as nonprescription retailers, manufacturers and drug wholesalers. But she said there is not always sufficient follow-up to ensure that problems found are corrected.
She cited an instance where a pharmacist was cited for administering immunizations without being certified to do so.
Davenport said the pharmacy submitted a corrective action plan and some supporting documents to show that the pharmacist was in the process of obtaining the required certification. And, in fact, she said her auditors did find the pharmacist did eventually get certified.
But Davenport said no one from the pharmacy board ever bothered to check back to see that had occurred “or reinspect pharmacy records to ensure the pharmacist did not give additional immunizations prior to being certified.”
Wand acknowledged that sometimes his staffers take licensees at their word.
For example, Wand said a pharmacy might be cited for not having hot water as required. Wand said the normal practice would be to write a letter to the establishment.
He said the pharmacy might send a letter back saying they had fixed the problem, sometimes even attaching a copy of the repair invoice.
“They want us to go back and make sure they fixed it,” Wand said of the auditors. “But that's not what we've been doing.”
Still, he conceded that, at least with more serious violations, pharmacy inspectors should go back and ensure a problem has been resolved.
Davenport's report also said her auditors found that individuals calling the board for information about pharmacists were not always given all the information to which they were entitled. Wand blamed that on an untrained staffer who should have handed off the call to him.
The key bright spot in the report for the agency is that Davenport's auditors found that pharmacy board staff did a good job of inspections and pursuing problems.
She mentioned one situation that began as a routine board inspection but quickly escalated. Board staff found the pharmacy was selling prescription drugs obtained from another country.
Davenport said the full board, after reviewing the files, imposed a $10,000 civil penalty, placed the pharmacy on probation and had board staffers conduct two inspections during that probation.