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Some rich hospital donors acquired early COVID-19 vaccinations — these establishments have all kinds of explanations

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The relief over the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines in the US quickly turned into frustration with delivery bottlenecks, delivery issues and uneven distribution.

But one group has a head start in getting the coveted shots: people who donated money to hospitals that distribute the vaccine.

Coast to coast hospitals have offered their wealthy contributors early access to vaccines, which has led to at least one investigation by state health officials.

In Topeka, Kansas, members of Stormont Vail Health’s board of directors and a separate fundraising board received vaccination shots during the first phase of the state’s rollout, when vaccinations were to be given to nursing home residents and health care workers, local media company KCUR reported.

The first round of shooting was intended for healthcare professionals who cannot work from home and who may be exposed, directly or indirectly, to patients or infectious materials as a result of their work. Members of the hospital board were not on that list.

A hospital spokesman “defended early access to donation and hospital boards,” told KCUR, saying that board members’ decisions help “ensure everything is up and running day in and day out”. (Board members also typically donate to nonprofits that they lead.)

Once vaccines were approved for use in the US, there were concerns that people with more resources would be maneuvering for early doses.

The Association for Healthcare Philanthropy even published a script that hospital officials can use if they refuse donors who have requested early access to the vaccine.
In some cases, however, it is not the donors who ask for the recordings but the hospitals who invite the donors. These hospitals are “outliers,” said Alice Ayres, president and CEO of the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy.

VIP treatment for VIPs

In Seattle, the Wash. Overlake Medical Center issued a public apology after its chief development officer emailed donors who had given $ 10,000 or more that “bulk donors” were invited to vaccine appointments only, the Seattle Times reported.

The hospital said donors were among around 4,000 people, including patients, staff and volunteers, who were contacted about vaccine appointments after the hospital’s scheduling system failed, according to the Seattle Times. “

We are under pressure to vaccinate eligible individuals and increase capacity, “the medical center’s chief executive officer told the newspaper. “In hindsight, we could certainly look back and say that this is not the best way to do it.”

In New Jersey, donors and relatives of executives at Hunterdon Medical Center received vaccination shots “weeks before” the public when the shots were due to be reserved for health care professionals and people in long-term care facilities, New Jersey 101.5 FM reported.

A hospital spokesman said the facility followed all state guidelines and only offered the shots to others “if the doses were likely to be wasted.”

Some of the first people to receive shots on December 18, the day after the first shipment of vaccines arrived at the hospital, were a couple who had long donated to the hospital’s foundation and who, according to a vaccine in 2018, received at least US $ 10,000 Dollar donated registration received from New Jersey 101.5 FM.

Similar stories have surfaced in Florida and Maine as well.

“That’s unthinkable,” said Jay Frost, a fundraising advisor who spoke broadly about the problem that hospitals seem to treat donors cheaply. “It’s horrific. Donors shouldn’t get preferential treatment, especially when it comes to health care. I find it difficult to imagine a scenario in which someone who needed a kidney, for example, comes first because they made a larger donation than someone else. “

The Association of Fundraising Professionals recently condemned the practice, describing it as “unethical, unfair and contrary to the values ​​of philanthropy and ethical fundraising”. In New York State, facilities that shoot people who are not on the state’s priority list can be fined up to $ 1 million, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in late December.

THEne more attack on fragile public trust

The effects of this preferential treatment extend well beyond the institutions themselves, an expert told MarketWatch.

When people hear of wealthier elites receiving vaccination doses in front of the public, it is another assault on an already frayed public trust at a time when people’s trust in health care facilities is critical to ending the pandemic, said Joseph Carrese , a medical doctor and professor of medicine at the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University.

“The public in general is pretty fragile right now,” said Carrese. “It’s been tough the last few months.” Elderly people who are more isolated should wear masks and not visit loved ones, he noted.

“They are desperately trying to get the vaccine and they look in the papers and read that someone well connected has skipped the line. I can only imagine how frustrated, demoralized, and angry they would be about it. Then what happens to credibility and public trust? Then start thinking, “Why bother, why should I do what you say?” If they lose their credibility and trust in us, there may be all sorts of negative consequences. “

People’s willingness to follow social distancing instructions, wear masks and get vaccinated depends on their belief that health officials are acting in the best interests of all, Carrese added. If they don’t believe this is the case, they could stop following advice from health authorities. And that affects everyone.


“Public trust is not an abstract, meaningless thing. If we ask people to do the hard things, like wear your mask and not visit your family, if they don’t trust that we have their best interest in doing it, maybe they won’t. ”

– Joseph Carrese, MD, MPH, FACP, Professor of Medicine and Core Faculty, Berman Institute of Bioethics, Johns Hopkins University

Hospitals could lose their vaccination license

Much is at stake if hospitals fail to follow state rules for distributing vaccines. In addition to fines in states like New York, hospitals can lose their license to administer vaccines, which could slow the adoption of vaccines for everyone, Ayres said.

According to Ayres, state health officials and the CDC keep track of every bottle of vaccine, as well as personal information about the recipient of each shot. There are checks and balances to make sure hospitals are following guidelines and a paper path to ensure compliance.

She was unable to specifically comment on the Topeka, Seattle, and New Jersey hospitals where donors had early access to vaccines, but said that in some cases it is possible for hospitals to contact donors because they have residual doses and are using them have to.

“You could have a debate about whether or not this is completely ethical,” Ayres said. “I think right now it is at least significantly worse or even criminal to leave the vaccine unused.”

A hospital vaccinated volunteers

The good news: “The few stories out there are really a huge minority,” Ayres told MarketWatch. She said 99.999% know that it would be disastrous if found to not follow the guidelines.

It is also true that many hospital donors happen to be in the high priority age groups, Ayres added. Some of these donors may turn to hospitals not because they expect special treatment, but because they really aren’t sure when and how to get a shot, and they turn to everyone they know in the medical field, she said .

Trying to help donors appears to be one aspect of what happened in New Jersey, where “the day before the state opens vaccine appointments for seniors and high-risk adults,” a hospital foundation wrote a letter to the donors Sent an invitation to call the Foundation Director for Important Gifts “to help you schedule an appointment” once they are eligible, “New Jersey 101.5 reported.

The letter stated that donors would not get early access to admissions, but “that we will help you manage a process that is changing rapidly and can sometimes be complex.”

A hospital spokesman, Hunterdon Healthcare, had an explanation. He said 99.6% of the doses the hospital gave went to people on the high priority list, and in “the remaining few cases” the hospital vaccinated volunteers who were easy to contact and readily available, including some donors and board members.

“We believed, and still believe, that it is better to vaccinate someone who is immediately available to us than let a vaccine go to waste,” said Jason VanDiver, chief marketing and communications officer.

“In no event have we given a donor, board member or executive priority over an eligible clinician, senior or at-risk individual who was available for vaccination,” he added.

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