Confusion over unclaimed COVID-19 vaccines led high-ranking New York officials to threaten penalties, license revocations and public shaming of nursing homes they may have wrongly considered at fault, according to a report published Tuesday.
The threats came during a March 17 call with at least two leaders of state nursing home associations, parts of which were captured on an audio recording cited by the New York Post.
During the call, state Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker and Beth Garvey, special counsel to the governor, accused hundreds of nursing home operators of failing to pick up vaccine shipments they had ordered.
But association leaders later contacted members the state threatened to penalize only to learn most didn’t ask for the unretrieved doses or had actually already gotten them.
“Why the over-the-top threatening?” one association leader asked in recounting the accusations. “Why wasn’t it a phone call of, ‘What are you guys hearing and are there issues getting the vaccine out?’ You call people up with no notice, start threatening licenses and penalties — that’s your starting position? The first I heard something was wrong was on that call. Before that? Nothing.”
McKnight’s Long-Term Care News verified the veracity of story with one association source Tuesday but did not have access to the recording.
The Post reported that Zucker is heard threatening fines, ramped up enforcement and “shaming everyone.”
“I would think that each and every medical director at these facilities should feel personal jeopardy for their medical licenses,” Garvey added, according to the Post. “We have literally bent over backwards to try to see if the nursing homes would do the right thing. I think our only recourse at this point is to try to clean it up, because we have liability.”
After receiving a list of more than 400 facilities the state accused of leaving vaccines unclaimed, the New York associations called members that appeared on it.
Some facility leaders told them the state may have confused required tallies of unvaccinated residents and staff with requests for doses. Others had already partnered with a pharmacy for their outstanding vaccine needs or previously picked up allotments.
The state health department maintained, however, that the nursing homes in question — still not publicly identified — do, in fact, need the supply that’s been set aside.
“We made repeated calls, determined if they could do shots themselves or needed a third-party provider, and have asked them daily for six-and-a-half weeks how many doses they need,” spokesman Gary Holmes said in a statement. “For some inexplicable reason, hundreds of nursing homes are letting vaccine doses sit on shelves — these failures border on malpractice.”