A CVS pharmacist at an understaffed store knew she was having a heart attack but stayed at work until she died, her family says
- A CVS pharmacist died of a heart attack mid-shift at an understaffed store during the pandemic, USA Today reported.
- Despite experiencing symptoms, her family speculates she felt unable to go to ER until a replacement arrived.
A CVS pharmacist at an understaffed store had a fatal heart attack at work – and her family thinks that she didn't go to the ER because she didn't want to leave the pharmacy unattended.
Ashleigh Anderson, then 41, worked at the CVS store in Seymour, Indiana. On September 10, 2021, the store was severely understaffed – she was the only pharmacist working that shift, according to a report by USA Today.
Anderson knew that she was experiencing symptoms of a heart attack while at work, according to the USA Today article, which shared text messages sent between Anderson and Joe Bowman, her boyfriend, during what was to be her final shift.
Anderson texted Bowman in the morning, saying that she had been experiencing cold sweats, jaw pain, chest pain, and nausea. "I think I am having a heart attack," she wrote.
Bowman replied that there could be other causes for her symptoms. "Can you take a long lunch & decompress?" he asked her.
"I can't," Anderson replied.
She told Bowman that she had spoken to her boss's assistant who told her to close the store. In another text to Bowman shortly after, Anderson said that the assistant had found a replacement for her and that she would go to the nearby ER.
"Hopefully it's nothing and I will come back to work," she wrote to Bowman in what turned out to be the final text she ever sent.
About 15 minutes later, she collapsed in the pharmacy. People close to Anderson told USA Today they thought she had decided to wait until her replacement arrived before going to the ER.
"She was, in our opinion, afraid to go to the emergency room and be told, 'No it's not a heart attack at all, it's just anxiety,'" her father, Larry Anderson, told the newspaper. "Because then she would have to come back and face her bosses."
A customer who was a nurse started CPR on Anderson while a pharmacy tech rang the emergency services, one of her coworkers told USA Today.
First responders arrived rapidly, but attempts to resuscitate Anderson both in the pharmacy and at the ER were unsuccessful, USA Today reported.
An autopsy revealed that Anderson had severe atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, per USA Today. A cardiologist told the newspaper that Anderson likely could have been saved if she'd gone to the ER as soon as she noticed the symptoms.
The pharmacy was understaffed and Anderson was stressed out
During the pandemic retail pharmacies were flooded with patients wanting COVID-19 tests and vaccines at a time when they struggled to find enough workers. Workers also had to balance serving customers with social-distancing requirements.
Pharmacists previously told Business Insider that they were overworked and burned out. "COVID has exacerbated this already inhumane situation," a former CVS pharmacist in Connecticut said.
Anderson was a smoker. And she was stressed because of her job –shortly before her death, the pharmacy manager and two staff pharmacists had quit their jobs, leaving the remaining staff overburdened, per the USA Today report.
Anderson had also recently found out her boss had promoted her to pharmacy manager against her will – she didn't want the extra stress. "I am livid," she messaged to a coworker just days before her death.
Anderson's family told USA Today that she was expected to work through lunch and bathroom breaks and felt pressured to come in for her shifts even when she felt unwell.
But despite this, her family said that she'd been to the doctor two weeks prior to her death and received a clean bill of health.
"We were, and remain, deeply saddened by the tragic death of our colleague, Ashleigh Anderson, in September 2021. She was an outstanding pharmacist who was committed to her profession, patients, co-workers, and community," CVS said in a statement to Business Insider.
The statement added that CVS has "a culture of safety for our patients, our customers, and our colleagues."
"We do not want any colleague to stay at work if they become ill or experience a health emergency," it continued.
Michael DeAngelis, CVS' executive director of corporate communications, told USA Today that Anderson's death was a "tragedy that never should have happened."
"It's impossible for me to comment on why Ashleigh made the decision she made," DeAngelis said, referring to her decision to seemingly wait until her replacement arrived before leaving for the ER.
"I think, by and large, pharmacists are highly dedicated health care professionals, and I would not be surprised if there are pharmacists who have the mindset of, 'I need to keep taking care of my patients,' versus 'I'm afraid of being punished by my employer.'"
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