Thirty-one of Kansas’ 105 counties have only one pharmacy, while six others have none.

Thirty-one of Kansas’ 105 counties have only one pharmacy, while six others have none.

Experts say those numbers could get even worse if state budget cuts delay a $60 million expansion of the University of Kansas’ School of Pharmacy.

The pharmacy project — which includes a new building on the Lawrence campus and expansion of a building at the university’s Wichita campus — has been approved this year for $20 million in bonds from the state. Lawmakers also planned to spend $15 million of expected gambling revenues in each of 2010 and 2011 on the project.

The University of Kansas is raising the other $10 million. Of that, $5 million would pay for a second floor to the university’s School of Medicine campus in Wichita to train 40 pharmacists.

The new building in Lawrence would add space for about 45 more students on top of the 105 already enrolled.

But Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ budget office has asked the Board of Regents to cut $15 million from its budget, a cut the regents have voted to appeal.

“The budget is so bad for 2010, if they only cut $15 million, they’re going to be lucky,” said state Sen. Jean Schodorf, a Wichita Republican.

Also, prospects aren't as clear that the gambling revenues will be there to pay for later phases of the expansion project.

University spokeswoman Lynn Bretz said the university needs the bulk of the pharmacy school money before construction starts and the bonds it will receive this year are only enough for the initial design phase.

She said if the money for the later phases isn't there, it brings up the question of whether plans for the expansion should continue.

Merlin McFarland, who owns Kingman County's only drug store, said he almost had to close last year because he couldn't find anyone to fill two open pharmacist positions.

"If I hadn't put the staff together, I maybe would have looked at closing the store down," said McFarland, who has owned Kingman Drug Store for 34 years.

He filled the positions with a University of Kansas pharmacy student he had recruited for a few years and a former pharmacist at the store whom he rehired.

Pharmacy staffing problems could shrink access to quality health care and even lead to mistakes that can harm customers, experts say.

Debra Billingsley, executive secretary for the Kansas State Board of Pharmacists, said the number of complaints to the state board this year is about twice as high as in recent years. Most of those involve customers who received the wrong medicine or dosage, she said.

Some of that increase, though, she attributed to people becoming aware they can report problems to the board.

Billingsley said the pharmacist problem in Kansas could grow worse as pharmacists, especially in western Kansas, reach retirement age and their positions become harder to fill.

"There are people out there who would like to retire but feel like they can't," she said.