Some wealthy hospital donors received the first COVID-19 vaccines; those institutions have a wide variety of explanations

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Relief from the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines to the US quickly turned to frustration over supply shortages, delivery problems, and uneven distribution. But one group has had an advantage in receiving long-awaited vaccines: people who have donated money to the hospitals that distribute the vaccine.

Hospitals from coast to coast have offered their wealthy taxpayers early access to vaccines, prompting at least one investigation by state health authorities. In Topeka, Kansas, members of the Stormont Vail Health board of directors and a separate fundraising board received vaccines during the first phase of the state’s rollout when vaccines were supposed to go to nursing home residents and health workers, local news outlet KCUR reported. The first round of vaccines was intended for people in healthcare jobs who are unable to work from home and may be exposed directly or indirectly to patients or infectious materials from their jobs. Members of the hospital board were not on this list. A hospital spokesperson “defended giving early access to the fundraising and hospital meetings,” KCUR reported, saying that the decisions of the board members help to “ensure that everything works day-to-day.” (Board members also often donate to the nonprofits they help run.) As soon as the vaccines were approved for use in the US, concerns arose that people with more resources would maneuver to get the first few doses. The Association for Healthcare Philanthropy even published a script for hospital officials to use when turning down donors who requested early access to vaccines. However, in several cases, it is not the donors who request the vaccines, it is the hospitals that request the vaccines. they invite donors. Those hospitals are “outliers,” said Alice Ayres, president and CEO of the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy. VIP treatment for, well, VIP In Seattle, Washington. Overlake Medical Center issued a public apology after its director of development emailed donors who had given $ 10,000 or more, offering “top donors” invitation-only access to vaccine appointments, the Seattle Times reported. The hospital said donors were among about 4,000 people, including patients, employees 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 people and increase capacity,” the executive director of the medical center told the newspaper. “In hindsight, we could certainly look back and say that this was not the best way to do it.” In New Jersey, donors and family members of Hunterdon Medical Center executives received vaccines “weeks earlier” than the general public, when vaccines were supposed to be reserved for frontline medical workers and people in long-term care facilities. term, New Jersey 101.5 FM reported. A hospital spokesman said the facility followed all state guidelines and only offered the injections to others “if the doses were likely to be wasted.” Some of the first people to receive vaccines, on December 18, the day after the first shipment of vaccines arrived at the hospital, were a couple who have been long-time donors to the hospital foundation and donated at least $ 10,000. in 2018, according to a vaccine. Record obtained by New Jersey 101.5 FM. Similar stories have emerged in Florida and Maine as well. “This is unthinkable,” said Jay Frost, a fundraising consultant, speaking generally on the topic of hospitals appearing to treat donors favorably. “It’s awful. Donors should not receive preferential treatment, especially when it comes to medical care. It’s hard for me to imagine a scenario where someone who needs, say, a kidney would be first in line because they had made a bigger donation than someone else. “The Association of Fundraising Professionals recently condemned the practice, describing it as “unethical, inequitable and antithetical to the values ​​of philanthropy and ethical fundraising.” In New York State, facilities that administer vaccines to people who are not on the state’s priority list can be fined with up to $ 1 million, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in late December One more assault on the fragile public trust The implications of this preferential treatment reach far beyond the institutions themselves, an expert told MarketWatch. When People Find Out that the wealthiest elites receive doses of vaccines before the general public, is yet another assault on the already eroded public trust at a time when the faith of the he people in health care institutions is crucial to ending the pandemic, said Joseph Carrese, a medical doctor and professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University’s Berman Institute for Bioethics. “The general public is quite fragile right now,” Carrese said. “It has been difficult for the last few months.” Older people, who are more likely to be isolated, have been told to wear masks and refrain from visiting loved ones, he noted. “They are desperately trying to get vaccinated and they look at the newspaper and read that someone who is well connected jumped the line. I can only imagine how frustrated, demoralized, and angry they would be. So what about credibility and public trust? Then they start thinking, ‘Why bother me? Why should I do what they say? ‘ If they lose their credibility and trust in us, I think there are potentially all kinds of negative consequences. “The willingness of people to follow social distancing orders, wear masks, and get vaccinated depends on their belief that health officials are acting by They have their best interests in mind, Carrese added. If they don’t believe that’s the case, they could stop following the advice of health officials. And that has implications for everyone.

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““ Public trust is not some kind of nonsensical abstract thing. If we ask people to do the hard things, like wear their mask and not visit their family, if they don’t trust that we have their best interests in mind, they might not do it. “” – Joseph Carrese, MD, MPH , FACP, Professor of Medicine and Senior Faculty, Berman Institute for Bioethics, Johns Hopkins University

Hospitals Could Lose Their Vaccination License The stakes are high if hospitals don’t follow state rules for vaccine distribution. In addition to fines in states like New York, hospitals can lose their license to administer vaccines, which could make the vaccine launch slower for everyone, Ayres said. State health officials and the CDC track each vaccine vial, as well as personal information about the recipient of each injection, Ayres said. There are checks and balances to make sure hospitals follow the guidelines and a paper trail to ensure compliance. He was unable to specifically comment on hospitals in Topeka, Seattle and New Jersey where donors gained early access to vaccines, but said that in some cases, hospitals may be contacting donors because they have leftover doses and need to use them. “You could have a debate about whether that’s perfectly ethical or not,” Ayres said. “I think at the moment it is at least significantly worse, or even criminal, to let the vaccine go unused.” A hospital vaccinated volunteers The good news: “The couple of stories that are out there are really a large minority.” Ayres told MarketWatch. He said 99.999% know that if it is found that they are somehow not following the guidelines, it would be catastrophic. It’s also true that many hospital donors are in the high-priority age groups, Ayres added. Some of those donors may be reaching out to hospitals, not because they expect special treatment, but because they aren’t really sure when and how to get an injection, and are turning to those they know in the medical field, he said. . Trying to help donors seems to be one aspect of what happened in New Jersey, where “the day before the state opened vaccination appointments for seniors and any adults with high-risk conditions,” the foundation of a hospital sent donors a letter inviting them to call the foundation’s major giving director “to ‘help you make an appointment’ as soon as you are eligible,” New Jersey 101.5 reported. The letter said donors would not have early access to vaccines, but “rather we will help you navigate a rapidly changing and sometimes complex process.” A spokesperson for the hospital, Hunterdon Healthcare, had an explanation. He said that 99.6% of the doses the hospital had administered had been for people on the high priority list and that in “the few remaining cases” the hospital vaccinated volunteers who were easily contacted and immediately available, including some donors and board members. “We believed, and continue to believe, that it was better to vaccinate someone immediately available to us than to allow any vaccine to go to waste,” said Jason VanDiver, director of marketing and communications. “In no case did we prioritize a donor, board member or executive over an eligible physician, an elderly person or a person at risk who was available to receive a vaccine,” he added.