ALBANY — State hospitals could be fined up to $100,000 for not administering the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to eligible New Yorkers qu…
WATERTOWN — As Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo orders hospitals to finish dispersing all COVID-19 vaccines on hand by the end of the week, hospitals in the tri-county region have responded with mixed reactions, indicative of the patchy inconsistencies of the distribution process thus far.
The nine hospitals across Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties have been dispersing vaccines to willing medical workers and other specific populations in accordance with the state’s phased approach since mid-December. The governor wants that process expedited, drawing some ire from hospitals amid a local rollout with logistical hiccups and lacking transparency.
The nine hospitals include Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown, River Hospital in Alexandria Bay, Carthage Area Hospital, Lewis County General Hospital in Lowville, Canton-Potsdam Hospital, Massena Hospital, Gouverneur Hospital and Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center in Ogdensburg and Clifton-Fine Hospital in Star Lake.
State hospitals must administer their vaccine inventory this week, or face up to a $100,000 fine, according to a new directive from the state Department of Health.
Facilities must use all vaccine doses within one week of receipt going forward, otherwise, a provider could be disqualified from distributing future vaccines. DOH Commissioner Dr. Howard A. Zucker issued a letter to all eligible vaccine providers detailing the new requirements.
According to the letter sent to the vaccine distributors from DOH, any remaining doses left over after Jan. 7 will be redistributed by the state to other facilities. Moving forward, the letter also notes, hospitals must distribute all vaccines within seven days from the time they are received.
As of Monday afternoon, Lewis County General Hospital reported having an inventory of 480 Moderna and 180 Pfizer vaccine doses. While the facility has vaccinated 341 individuals so far, not including nursing home residents and staff, only another 25 to 50 more are expected to be vaccinated this week, according to a statement from Lewis County Health System Chief Executive Officer Gerald R. Cayer.
“I support the governor’s goal of making vaccines available to all (Phase) 1A individuals. However, just because some parts of NYS have concerns and skepticism about the vaccine does not mean local health systems are falling short. Daily, I am on scheduled conference calls with North Country health system CEOs. We are all committed to making the vaccine available to the appropriate populations and supporting the guidance and directives coming to us from Albany,” Mr. Cayer said in a prepared statement Monday.
Mr. Cayer also emphasized that no doses of the vaccine have been wasted.
Carthage Area Hospital also reported Monday it had administered about 250 vaccine doses, but had 350 remaining on-hand though those numbers are changing frequently as more are being dispersed. The hospital’s Marketing Executive Director Taylour L. Scanlin said businesses and organizations with eligible recipients were being contacted to try and administer vaccines this week, but did not provide any indication if all the doses would be used by Jan. 7.
Samaritan Medical Center Communication and Public Relations Director Leslie M. DiStefano said Monday that 89% of its vaccine inventory had been administered, but did not provide specific figures. Two weeks ago, Samaritan reported having been allotted a total of 600 doses of Moderna and 350 doses of Pfizer vaccines for hospital employees. Ms. DiStefano could not confirm figures for Clifton-Fine Hospital, which is also owned by Samaritan.
During the first week of rollout, several hospital officials indicated they could not disclose certain details, such as the specific number of vaccines they had been allotted or where those were being stored. They cited a memorandum of understanding with the state that forbid them from disclosing that information, even while other facilities released that information.
River Hospital released a statement on Dec. 23, noting it had received 200 doses of the Moderna vaccine. A hospital spokesperson has not confirmed whether or not it was allotted any of the initial Pfizer vaccine doses.
“At this time, we don’t have anything we can contribute to your article. Everything is moving at a rapid pace,” River Hospital Director of Marketing and Community Relations Andrea Roden said of the facility’s vaccination progress.
A spokesperson for St. Lawrence Health System, which runs Canton-Potsdam, Gouverneur and Massena hospitals, has said the health system received doses of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, but would not provide specific numbers. The spokesperson did not provide an update on vaccination progress before press time, though Dr. Andrew F. Williams, president of the St. Lawrence County Board of Health and SLHS employee, said “thousands” had been administered throughout St. Lawrence County, speaking at a meeting Monday.
Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center has not provided details as to how many Pfizer vaccine doses it was given, but previously said it was allotted 300 Moderna doses last month.
“At CHMC we are doing our best to use the allotted doses. However, it is a reality that individuals will exercise free will and elect to not receive the vaccine. This very real issue should not be held against hospitals as long as they have done everything possible to facilitate the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine,” Claxton-Hepburn Interim Executive Director of Marketing and External Relations Amanda Hitterman said in a prepared statement.