AG’s office finds no violations, but says hospitals were wrong to offer vaccine to board members
The Rhode Island Attorney General's Office says though local hospital systems did not violate any laws or regulations in offering the vaccine to hospital board members, it was still wrong.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – The Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office says though local hospital systems did not violate any laws or regulations in offering the Covid-19 vaccine to hospital board members, it was still wrong.
This statement comes after a review of the hospitals’ practices in January, when it became public knowledge that hospital board members within Care New England and Lifespan had been vaccinated.
In January, vaccine supply was low, and RI DOH had said healthcare workers and first responders needed to be prioritized first.
The Attorney General’s Office Tuesday said it is now up to the Department of Health, ass well as their vaccination partners, to restore and maintain trust in the vaccination prioritization system.
“In my judgement, Lifespan and Care New England made a bad choice here,” said Attorney General Peter Neronha. “I felt it was important to say that in writing, on the record.”
The Department of Health’s own initial guidance for hospitals did not specify who was or was not considered a healthcare worker.
Neronha said however, that even though the guidance did not specify, the hospitals should have realized it was the wrong things to do, with potentially wealthy and connected individuals getting access ahead of the general public.
“I think Care New England and Lifespan should have known better. I don’t think they needed to be told don’t vaccinate your board members,” said Neronha. The point I’m making about the Department of Health is this: it’s hard to hold somebody accountable for breaking a regulation or policy, when the agency that issued it, doesn’t think they did.”
In the report, Care New England had indicated that they thought of their board members as critical to the financial health of the healthcare system.
Lifespan said they took RI DOH’s guidance to mean anyone with a hospital badge would be eligible.
“The Department of Health itself admitted to us that they didn’t believe that either Care New England or Lifespan had violated their guidance.”
Nerhona’s guidance going forward is centered on communication and clarity, given that RI DOH has agreed in retrospect that there is a difference between hospital employees and board members.
He’s instructing the Department of Health to give explicit and specific guidance to vaccine partners so that there are no miscommunications or misunderstandings in what is expected.
He also wants RI DOH to continue to inform the public of exactly the steps it is taking in each phase of vaccination, and why.
“That’s our role under Rhode Island law, to advocate for the people of the State of Rhode Island. And I view, as part of that role, that when we see a wrong, to say something about it,” said Neronha.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Care New England said:
“Care New England is pleased the Office of Rhode Island Attorney General found that Care New England was not in violation of any directives, policies or laws in connection with its decision to vaccinate board members. During the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, Care New England has worked diligently to vaccinate its workforce, as well as patients, in order to provide the highest quality of care to everyone in our community.”
In another statement, Lifepsan President and CEO Timothy Babineau said:
“Lifespan has played an important role for the state in combating this pandemic for more than a year. We have been committed to the equitable and efficient distribution of vaccines from the very beginning of the statewide vaccination program. Our intent and actions have always been to work in accordance with the guidelines received from the Rhode Island Department of Health. That remains the case to this day. We acknowledge, along with the Attorney General, the importance of public perception and holding ourselves to the very highest of standards. We remain dedicated to do all we can to bring the victims of COVID-19 back to health, to get vaccines into arms, and to stop the spread of this virus.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health told ABC 6 the department was in the process of reviewing the Attorney General’s report.