PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Attorney General Peter Neronha sent letters to the state’s two top hospital groups Monday seeking more information about their vaccination policies after an outcry over board members being administered shots while most Rhode Islanders wait.
In identical letters sent to the CEOs of Lifespan and Care New England, Neronha noted reports that “certain individuals employed by or affiliated with” the two hospital chains were given doses “despite the fact that they do not appear to fall within the Phase 1 category of individuals designated to receive the vaccine.”
“There has been particular concern regarding the vaccination of board members, trustees, and administrative employees who primarily telework,” Neronha wrote.
The attorney general asked for documents related to the organizations’ vaccine policies by Feb. 8, while acknowledging that R.I. Department of Health officials may have given guidance that allowed them to expand their authorized distribution to include individuals like board members.
Among his requests: all communication from state officials regarding vaccine administration; a copy of the hospital groups’ vaccine response plans; detailed information on who has been vaccinated so far and how they have been prioritized; and an explanation of how shots will be allocated in the future.
Kathleen Hart, a spokesperson for Lifespan, said in an email that the not-for-profit corporation “will participate in the attorney general’s office review of our vaccination distribution strategy to health care workers and our efforts to support the recommendations of [the Department of Health].”
Care New England spokesperson Jessica McCarthy said, “We received the letter from the AG’s office and we will reply promptly with all requested information. We are happy to explain in detail our methodology, to include our continued and complete transparency regarding how the process of administering, handling and recording aligns with the guidance provided.”
Lifespan is the parent company of Rhode Island Hospital as well as Miriam, Bradley and Newport. Care New England owns Women & Infants, Kent and Butler.
News that board members and other non-frontline workers at Lifespan and CNE had received the vaccine caused an explosion of consternation as soon as it became public. State Rep. Charlene Lima, D-Cranston, has filed a bill that would make it a crime to inoculate people outside the Health Department’s guidelines.
Leaders at the hospital groups have insisted they did nothing wrong.
Board members are “integral to the success of our organization,” Care New England President and CEO Dr. James Fanale said in a radio interview last week. “They spend hours volunteering time here. They are volunteers and they actively do stuff.”
Hart, the Lifespan spokesperson, said she could not divulge how many board members had received vaccine doses because it could violate HIPAA.
“Some board members may have been eligible to get vaccinated in the 1st or 2nd tier as a clinician or physician; as well some may have been able to be vaccinated in a professional capacity outside of Lifespan,” she said.
A total of 73,994 vaccine doses had been administered in Rhode Island as of Monday, equal to about 60% of the 123,675 doses that had been received as of last week, Health Department data shows. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control website indicates roughly 25,000 more doses have been sent to Rhode Island since then.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram
Eli Sherman contributed to this report.