CHICAGO — Cook County judges are not yet eligible for coronavirus vaccinations — but they were offered shots at Loretto Hospital, according to a report, bringing more scrutiny to the West Side facility that already is under fire for wrongfully vaccinating workers at Trump Tower.
WBEZ’s Dan Mihalopoulos and Kristen Schorsch obtained an email showing Judge Diann Marsalek told other judges they could go to Loretto Hospital on March 8 to get vaccinated — and they could bring one other person of their choice, according to the report. Marsalek did not say in the email how she learned about the opportunity.
A spokeswoman for Loretto Hospital told Block Club no judges were “officially ‘invited’ by the hospital for vaccinations.”
“There was an existing level of confusion among medical teams at Loretto and other facilities regarding the nuances and differences between the City and State’s 1B and 1B+ eligibility requirements as they applied to ‘elected officials,'” the spokeswoman said in a statement. “This is not an excuse for mistakes made. Hospital leadership is working diligently and earnestly to set up control measures to ensure strict adherence to CDPH vaccination guidelines moving forward and avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.”
This is the second time in the same week the hospital has said it did not know who was eligible to be vaccinated. Earlier in the week, the hospital — facing backlash for vaccinating ineligible workers at Trump Tower — acknowledged it wrongfully gave those workers shots because officials mistakenly thought hotel staff qualified to receive shots during the city’s current phase of vaccinations.
Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, confirmed during a Wednesday news conference judges are not yet eligible to be vaccinated under the city’s rules. Hotel workers are not eligible, as well.
In both cases, those workers will be allowed to get the shots when the city moves into Phase 1C on March 29.
It’s unclear how many judges got vaccinated at Loretto Hospital or if they would have been eligible through other means, according to WBEZ.
A spokeswoman for the Office of the Chief Judge said the judges “did not take from any eligible persons but made use of shots that would have gone to waste.” Arwady has said doses have not been wasted in Chicago, however. On Thursday morning, she said “approximately zero” have been spoiled.
Officials doubled down on their rationale in a later statement. And a spokesman from the Illinois Supreme Court said while judges weren’t eligible for vaccinations in Cook County, the court’s position is all judges across the state should have qualified for the current round of shots.
The small, West Side hospital also is facing heavy criticism over the vaccinations done at the luxury, Downtown Trump Tower in part because, its chief operating officer, Dr. Anosh Ahmed, told people he vaccinated Eric Trump the same day of the vaccine event at the tower. Ahmed lives in Trump Tower and has told people he’s friends with Trump.
Ahmed — who also took a photo with Trump and told people he was a “cool guy” — said he was “joking” after Block Club reported his comments and picture.
The health department is investigating the March 10 vaccination event, officials have said.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she was “disappointed” by Loretto Hospital’s vaccination event at Trump Tower — and said officials know it “was a mistake.”
“Of course I was disappointed to hear about it,” Lightfoot said during a Wednesday news conference. “They know it was a mistake. I’ve asked Dr. Arwady to dig deeper to make sure that … to trust but verify. To make sure that what they told us, the COO who decided to host this event, that it was limited to hotel workers and not some other circumstances.
“But they recognize that this was a mistake and absolutely can never be repeated. It’s a cautionary tale for any other provider.”
Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-8th) sits on Loretto’s board and represents the area in the state Legislature. He said “mistakes were made” and the board is meeting with Loretto CEO George Miller on Thursday to discuss the situation — but they won’t “throw anybody under the bus.”
Ford said what the hospital has to do to prevent more wrongful vaccinations is “simple.”
“You just do not allow for anyone but a person that lives on the West Side that meets the criteria,” he said.
Ford said people shouldn’t “throw away” everything the hospital has done during the pandemic.
In a letter to Loretto’s staff, Miller took responsibility for the March 10 event, saying he authorized it.
“It was all in poor judgement, but goodwill with [Miller] doing this,” Ford said. “We don’t throw anybody under the bus — unless he was paid to do those vaccines, and I don’t think that was the case.”
Ford said he told Miller he expects the hospital to “refrain from going outside of the scope of … the hospital’s mission,” he said.
“We will fix this, and we can’t let this cause us to lose focus of making sure we get shots in people’s arms,” Ford said. “We talked to the city. [Miller] got a confirmation from the mayor that she understands and she just expects better. We aren’t getting cut off.”
The March 10 vaccination event at the tower comes as many in Chicago who are eligible to be vaccinated and most at risk from COVID-19 are still struggling to find an appointment.
Loretto Hospital is a small, 122-bed hospital that operates on the underserved West Side, where people of color have been hit hard by coronavirus and few people have been vaccinated. Trump Tower is Downtown, where the virus’s impact has not been felt as severely — but where more vaccinations have been done.
The city has highlighted Loretto’s work as an example of its goal of equitably vaccinating people — even insisting on having the city’s first vaccine doses administered there to show how Chicago would prioritize West and South side communities that are often ignored.
Loretto Hospital has done other off-site vaccination events, but all were staged on the West Side of Chicago near the hospital, a spokeswoman said. Those events happened at schools, subsidized housing facilities and churches in the hospital’s service area — not at big-name, Downtown businesses like Trump Tower.
One Loretto employee, who works in the IT department and only gave his first name, Dan, said he heard the Trump Tower staffers who were vaccinated live in the West Side area and they requested the vaccinations Downtown. A hospital spokesperson gave Block Club the same explanation but Trump Tower management prior to that said they were approached by a medical provider offering the shots.
Whether the people who got vaccinated were eligible or not isn’t a big deal to him, the worker said. He thinks the focus should instead be on getting people vaccinated as soon as possible and anywhere possible.
“Eventually, everyone is going to be vaccinated so I don’t see the big deal,” Dan said. “Instead of talking about the Trump [Tower] fiasco, we should encourage people to get vaccinated as much as they can.”
On Wednesday, Lightfoot said Loretto has been a “tremendous partner” with the city on vaccinations and has “owned responsibility” for the improper vaccinations. But the mayor also said she’s asked Arwady to “dig deeper” into the hospital’s story to verify what happened.
“We have a finite amount of vaccine in the city,” Lightfoot said. “We’ve been really, really careful to make sure that we’re using it in a way that prioritizes the most vulnerable people who are most at risk and most at risk of spreading it. We’re not gonna do what we’ve seen in other parts of the country and just have a free for all.
“… We just can’t have something like this happen again.”
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