MorseLife has made rare coronavirus vaccines – made available to residents and long-term care facility workers as part of a federal program – not only to its residents, but also to board members and people who have made generous donations to the facility, including members of Palm Beach Country Club, according to several people who were offered access, some of whom accepted it. The exact number of invitations and how many possibly went to non-donors could not be determined.
The agreement, which appears to be based on a program run by chain pharmacies for residents and staff of nursing homes, may violate national vaccination guidelines as well as state protocols, although state officials admit that sensitive matters will be discussed on condition of anonymity Rules were not phrased clearly enough by Governor Ron DeSantis (R). The vaccine doses are assigned to the state by the Trump administration, but are reserved for those living in long-term care facilities who are at greatest risk of dying from Covid-19.
The MorseLife episode highlights how the country’s patchwork approach to immunizing against the coronavirus – leaving decisions about eligibility to state and local authorities as well as individual providers – creates opportunities for facilities to provide access to well-connected people while thousands from others waiting line. In Florida, some elderly residents camped overnight in hopes of receiving a shot.
According to a health official who spoke on condition of anonymity, senior Palm Beach County health workers have not approved vaccinations for non-residents at MorseLife because they have not been cleared to discuss the issue. The official was shocked to learn that priority access to vaccinations at the facility was given to members of the public, even of advanced age, while others in line wait for appointments at county-established locations.
Myers did not respond to multiple requests for comment. An assistant who answered the phone at MorseLife Tuesday afternoon said, “He has your message.”
Recipients of his generosity appear to include longtime donors to the facility, a premier senior citizen center that offers everything from independent living facilities to hospice care and promising “luxury, comfort, and excellent personal service.”
The Palm Beach Country Club-affiliated foundation, which vaccinated some MorseLife members, has donated $ 75,000 to MorseLife partners since 2016, according to tax returns. The Foundation’s chairman, David S. Mack, a New Jersey-based real estate developer, is also a board member at several MorseLife subsidiaries. The MorseLife Health System address is named after him. Another address on campus is named after Greenbaum, who, according to tax returns, is also a board member of several affiliated companies.
In a statement, a Mack spokesman and his brother Bill, also a real estate mogul, said they had “supported” MorseLife in its vaccination campaign. The spokesman, George Shea, said the vaccinations were given “in full compliance” under an order issued by DeSantis that shots should only be fired at medical staff, residents and long-term care facility workers at this point in adults 65 and older.
Shea didn’t respond to further questions about how the Macks were supporting the effort or whether they’d been shot there.
MP Omari Hardy, D, who represents the part of West Palm Beach that includes MorseLife, said the facility appeared to have “sold access to this vaccine.” He said it didn’t matter that the recipients might fall into the age group eligible for immunization because they were exploiting a process that was “not available to the rest of us,” including one of his senior constituents, “the don’t know a lot of powerful people who don’t have a lot of money and ask me how to get access. “
“And I don’t know what to tell her,” said Hardy. “If MorseLife distributes this vaccine to well-connected people, they will be held accountable for it.”
Florida’s Agency for the Administration of Health, which licenses nursing homes and other health facilities in the state, directed Washington Post questions to the state health department and emergency management department. The state health department put questions to the county, where officials did not respond immediately.
David Grabowski, professor at Harvard Medical School and nursing home researcher, described vaccination of donors and members of the facility board as “irregular”.
“That certainly sounds inconsistent with what the CDC and other administrators had in mind for prioritizing nursing home residents and carers,” he said. “There’s a reason nursing home residents take precedence over the general senior population” based on their physical and cognitive impairments, “he said.
Robert Fromer, a former managing partner of a New York law firm whose family foundation has donated $ 45,000 to MorseLife since 2015, said he and his wife received recordings at MorseLife last week.
He estimated there were about 12 Walgreens vaccines on site and praised the event for being well run. “All I heard from the people there was that it was remarkably appreciated,” he said in a brief telephone interview on Monday.
Fromer is a member of the Palm Beach Country Club and director of its philanthropic arm, which donates to a variety of causes. He said only a small number of the country club’s 300 or so members had been vaccinated. When asked if members of the country club, which formerly included the disgraced financier Bernie Madoff, would have preferred others, he said, “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
He said he and his wife, both in their eighties, “applied for” and were accepted for immunization, but declined to explain the process. He insisted that the recordings administered by MorseLife were not intended solely for residents of the long-term care facility, but for all older residents of West Palm Beach. However, the Palm Beach County health official said members of the general public could not enroll on MorseLife.
Suzanne Levine, 80, a board member of three MorseLife affiliates, said her invitation was in writing – also from Myers. She has heard complaints from donors that powerful people not affiliated with MorseLife have received vaccines, she said.
“I heard some people say, ‘Geez, people who never gave MorseLife a dime got invited,'” she said. When asked how these people were invited, Levine said, “Friends.”
When describing the program for long-term care facilities, the US Department of Health specifically stated that chain pharmacies are only responsible for “residents and employees” in these centers. The initiative wasn’t created for the chain pharmacies to get additional vaccinations at the sites, according to a federal health official who spoke on condition of anonymity to raise sensitive matters.
Doctors and health officials said the agreement at MorseLife appears to be in conflict with these protocols.
“The award comes with a condition that you follow guidelines,” said Larry Bush, an infectious disease physician and president of the Palm Beach County Medical Society.
In Florida, as in most places, part of the state’s weekly allocation to CVS and Walgreens is provided to provide vaccinations in long-term care facilities. The state sends the remainder of its allocation to the county hospitals and health departments. Further vaccination sites will be identified shortly.
Hospitals have primarily vaccinated their own staff, following the governor’s step-by-step guidelines that first provided medical workers and nursing home residents. When the state moved into the second phase in late December, which was attended by adults aged 65 and over, the county’s health departments began giving the vaccine to the public.
In Palm Beach County and elsewhere, the process was very chaotic. The county’s phone-based requirements system was so overwhelmed that it “absolutely died of us,” said Palm Beach County health director Alina Alonso at a New Year’s Eve press conference, prompting officials to switch to an email system.
Everyone who is 65 years of age or older is now asked to send in a name, a telephone number and a date of birth – with no guarantee that an appointment is imminent, but depending on the supply of the district.
“We should tell our constituents that the process is complete and that they need to be patient,” said Senator Bobby Powell (D), who represents the area.
Chain pharmacy officials said that registering people to receive vaccines is the responsibility of each facility.
“We demand that all long-term care facilities register all residents and employees through our registration portal in front of the clinics,” said Rebekah Pajak, a Walgreens spokeswoman.
She declined to confirm that Walgreens had vaccinated at MorseLife, citing “security and privacy reasons” despite two people who were shot there said Walgreens had been there.
Michael DeAngelis, a spokesman for CVS, said the pharmacy receives a list of names from each facility. From this point on, she plans the first of three visits – the first for the first intake of the two-dose regimen, the second for the booster shot, and the third to complete immunization for anyone who received a first shot on the first visit .
“We count how many people are registered for the vaccination so we can bring enough vaccines,” he said. “We don’t pre-collect patient personal information.”