Cuomo’s MO is often to deflect, divert, distract

Jerry Moore

WATERTOWN — How is it possible for a health care professional to “fraudulently” administer a life-saving drug to someone who needs it?

If the odds of a patient surviving a pandemic will be dramatically increased by receiving an approved vaccination, arguments against a doctor offering it would be absurd. The doctor knows the individual’s medical condition better than anyone else, so he or she is in the best position to decide if and when a vaccine is appropriate.

Well, this train of thought apparently doesn’t hold true if your state is governed by Andrew M. Cuomo. In this case, he is (as former President George W. Bush used to say) “the decider.”

On Monday, Cuomo issued an executive order threatening health care professionals with the loss of their medical licenses and fines of up to $1 million if they veer from his declared strategy for rolling out vaccines to prevent COVID-19. This stemmed from an investigation into Brooklyn-based ParCare Community Health Network, which has been accused of violating rules established by the state Department of Health.

“State police, together with the state Department of Health and state Attorney General Letitia James, continue to investigate reports that ParCare Community Health Network, Orange County, improperly obtained, transferred and distributed the vaccine to 869 New Yorkers in the general public,” an article published Monday by the Watertown Daily Times reported. “Cuomo declared an executive order threatening to revoke all state licenses for health care providers including doctors, nurses and pharmacists, who fraudulently administer a coronavirus vaccine, increasing criminal penalties up to $1 million. … Providers will be required to certify a patient’s eligibility to receive a COVID-19 vaccine under the order to ensure medical personnel prioritize eligible patients within the DOH’s specific prioritization guidelines. The responsible health organization, individual employees and patients who knowingly received a fraudulent vaccine could each face charges.”

The state’s guidelines call for the first round of vaccines to be given to frontline health care workers as well as those who live and work in nursing facilities. But ParCare reportedly dispensed the vaccines throughout its network and distributed them to members of the public. The organization has six sites in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Monroe (Orange County).

Dr. Howard Zucker, New York’s health commissioner, said the DOH is taking the allegations against ParCare very seriously. However, a spokesperson for ParCare said the state authorized the organization to obtain the vaccines through its Monroe site and pass them along to all their locations, according to a story published Sunday by WLNY-TV.

During a novel coronavirus briefing Monday in Albany, the governor expressed his displeasure over the controversy.

“We will not tolerate any fraud in the vaccination process,” Cuomo said, according to the Times story. “We want to send a clear signal to the providers that if you violate the law on these vaccinations: We will find out, and you will be prosecuted.”

In my column published Sunday, I wrote that we need to stop playing the blame-game over who gets vaccinated first. Yes, rules are necessary to ensure an orderly process of distributing the drug. And to go along with this, it’s appropriate to establish a list of priorities for who should receive the initial vaccinations.

But wringing our hands over some individuals who “cut in line” makes little sense, I argued in my column. Everyone ultimately needs to be vaccinated, so I’m not going to lose too much sleep in discovering there are those who call in favors to get their shot at a shot.

The coronavirus will be effectively controlled when an increasing percentage of people are no longer at risk of developing COVID-19. Anytime someone is stuck in the arm with a needle containing the medication, we’re advancing the cause of eradicating the virus for good.

Members of some demographic groups have a lower likelihood of developing COVID-19 if they become infected. Conversely, members of other demographic groups are at greater odds of becoming seriously ill and dying if they catch the virus.

We know who these people are, so prioritizing them on a list for the first rounds of vaccinations is easy. And until there are significantly more vaccines to go around, sticking to the list is a sensible approach.

But the threat of crippling penalties for administering vaccines to people who haven’t been prioritized is a horrible policy. In the story published by WLNY-TV, a 68-year-old diabetic said he received a vaccination from ParCare despite his not being a prioritized individual.

Why isn’t he on the list? As a senior citizen with problematic health conditions, he meets the criteria for someone with major risk factors of dying from COVID-19. Is his life less worthy of preserving simply because he doesn’t reside in a nursing facility?

Medical researchers don’t yet know if receiving the COVID-19 vaccination will prevent someone from spreading the coronavirus. So even though people may be personally protected from becoming ill, they may still pass the virus on to other people.

This throws a huge wrench into the concept of herd immunity. So it’s essential that everyone receive a vaccine to guard against the potential for death or long-term health complications.

The public health departments in many New York counties have spent years and millions of dollars from the federal government developing plans for responding to pandemics, according to a story published Dec. 23 by the Times Union in Albany. This includes dispersing any available vaccinations.

When it came to this pandemic, however, the Cuomo administration tossed aside the strategies devised by counties in favor of its own ideas for rolling out the vaccines, the Times Union article reported. Years of planning by local officials went to waste. Rather than relying on the understanding that public health authorities possessed on what their respective communities needed, the governor at the last second declared that he knows best.

It would be interesting to see state officials penalize a doctor for providing a vaccine to a single mother desperately worried about the fate of her children if she becomes incapacitated from COVID-19. She’s young and doesn’t have underlying risk factors, but she’s prone to becoming ill.

Her doctor knows this and wanted to reassure her that she and her children would be OK. Yanking this person’s medical license — or slapping the single mother with a huge fine — would be quite the spectacle.

Why is Cuomo trying to browbeat medical authorities into submission?

Does he honestly believe he’s better equipped to decide how doctors should treat their patients?

Will this approach strengthen or weaken the public’s confidence in the medical community?

For the past nine months, Cuomo has been urging people to trust health care professionals on how to deal with the coronavirus. Well, now he needs to take a dose of his own medicine.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net. They also may follow him on Twitter: @WDT_OpEd.

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(9) comments

Mallow53

Nope, if there is not a plan and a fair distribution system then it could turn into a free for all and young healthy low risk people could suck up all the vaccines before the most vulnerable get a chance.

Some concierge doctors have already said they are getting calls and offers of bribes and hospital donations to get vaccines first.

I am elevated risk and my spouse high risk but we are patiently waiting our turn and glad the medical professionals, those working with Covid patients, those in front line positions, nursing home patients and workers, etc.

Soon it will be our turn and hopefully the rest of the citizens get it too. We all are looking to a return to public life again.

rdsouth

And it's a matter of the difference between treating individuals and the difference between treating populations. An individual doctor is trying to treat his individual elderly patient with diabetes. The government is trying to end the pandemic for the whole population (all of us who haven't been vaccinated are in this together, really). To do that, the government is focusing on populations rather than individuals. They're treating first the populations whose early treatment is most likely to minimize overall death rates. People in nursing homes are more likely to spread the virus to vulnerable people than merely vulnerable people not in nursing homes.

rdsouth

Letting people break the rules has a much greater impact than the direct consequences. The entire vaccination process is being centrally controlled for the general public good, and the government has a right to do that the same way the government has a right to keep you from driving down a street where firefighters are working. Your one car may not cause too much trouble, but if they start letting cars through what's the criterion for some limit between no traffic and just opening it up? Feeding one bear may not do much harm, but if people are allowed to feed bears soon the bears will be eating people who don't feed them. If the distribution method is going to just be "hand it out to doctors and let them use their best judgment" that's a worse plan than a simple plan that maybe doesn't make enough fine distinctions. There need to be consistent criteria. Which doctors get how much? Let doctors hand it out at will and soon many of them will be selling it to the highest bidder.

rdsouth

And that's not a slippery slope argument. A slippery slope argument relies on the idea that because something is moving in a certain direction you can assume it will never stop moving in that direction. If you don't ace this test you'll wind up on skid row. Feeding bears is known to lead to bear attacks.

KRobbins

Definitely agree that the more people that get vaccinated, the better and that Cuomo is a heavy-handed something something. I’d never want to see him as president and think he’s made mistakes during this crisis. I’m happy that he hasn’t spent it golfing and tweeting, tho. Do want to point out this tweet from our independent, bipartisan rep to Congress.

Stefanik calls Cuomo 'absolute disgrace' for prioritizing drug addicts for coronavirus vaccine

There’s a link to a Fox News article. She’s not going all Bob Dole talking about herself in the third person. Also, those “drug addicts” that she’s talking about are people that are in treatment. They’re what a person with just a smidge of empathy would call patients. But sure, why not demonize them for your own political purposes.

Mallow53

Thanks

zeitgeist

This column does not clearly state Zucker's and Cuomo's reasons for initiating a ParCare investigation.

Zucker said ParCare obtained the vaccine under false pretenses made in its application for the vaccine. It defrauded the state to obtain the vaccine, then, when it received it, it diverted it to another part of the state-- Brooklyn (when the application was for Orange County)-- and administered it to people not on the priority list. So, there are multiple alleged ParCare-infractions as opposed to one (that ParCare administered the vaccine to people not on the priority list).

"Were you sent the vaccine because you made false representations, that's the question," Cuomo said.

Jerry, do you condone professionals or institutions obtaining the vaccine under false representations or pretenses?

Jerry Moore Staff
Jerry Moore

The WLNY-TV article cited a ParCare spokesperson in declaring that state officials authorized the health care organization to dispense the vaccine throughout all its facilities. So according to this information, the other sites obtained the vaccine legitimately.

What I condone is for critical decisions about handling a health care crisis to be made by qualified medical personnel. County public health departments made plans for dispensing vaccines during a pandemic. But at the last minute, Cuomo decided the measures they’ve been working on for years shouldn’t be considered. He decided that his plan is the only reasonable one.

That’s not good governance. If doctors and other health care professionals believe that some individuals who made not have been placed on an arbitrary list need to be prioritized when it comes to being vaccinated, Cuomo should listen to them rather than threatening to punish them. Following the advice of people with the credentials to make the best decisions, that’s what I condone.

Mallow53

I assume you know there are Doctors who are still saying that the Conona19 is no big deal, or just like the regular flu, or other false hoods. I went to the ER for a nonCorona issue, stitches, and the doc told me hospitals were exaggerating Covid to get extra money. I want a clear statewide plan and it would have been even better if we had used the prepared national pandemic plan that was trashed.

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