CHICAGO — Employees at an expensive Gold Coast steakhouse were able to get vaccinated early, sources say — making it the third business where people with ties to Loretto Hospital’s chief operating officer were seemingly able to cut the line.
Loretto Hospital and its executives, including Chief Operating Officer Dr. Anosh Ahmed and Chief Executive Officer George Miller, are already embroiled in controversy after early doses were sent to groups with which they have ties. Ahmed was heavily criticized after Loretto held a vaccination event at Trump Tower — where Ahmed and another hospital leader live — and after Ahmed told people he vaccinated millionaire Eric Trump.
A luxury watch and jewelry shop on the Gold Coast frequented by Ahmed was vaccinated by Loretto in early March, as well; and more than 200 people at the hospital CEO’s suburban church got vaccinated by Loretto. Ineligible Cook County judges were also offered shots at Loretto, WBEZ reported. Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the city’s health department, has said Loretto used its doses on “well-connected” people, “letting them jump the line.”
Now, multiple sources have told Block Club employees at another location where Ahmed is a regular was able to get early access to vaccines: Maple & Ash, a trendy, high-end steakhouse at 8 W. Maple St. Reservations at the steakhouse require a $100 deposit, and steaks cost up to $180.
Ahmed is a frequent customer of the Gold Coast restaurant, and vaccinations were offered to higher-up workers who would’ve been ineligible to be vaccinated, multiple sources told Block Club. The Austin hospital Ahmed leads is meant to serve and vaccinate people on the West Side, where coronavirus has devastated communities of color.
Loretto Hospital officials said a response to questions about the vaccinations was pending. Ahmed also did not return calls.
The sources said the vaccinations were provided in early to mid-February, when many high-risk people were still struggling to find open appointments and get their shots.
Multiple workers at the restaurant confirmed Ahmed is a frequent customer and said he arranged for higher-level staff to be vaccinated.
“He’s the best,” said a worker at the restaurant, who asked not to be identified. The worker said Ahmed knows most of Maple & Ash’s staff and frequents the restaurant about once a week.
The worker said Ahmed arranged for “a few” employees to be vaccinated — including members of management and “higher ups.” The worker said they think those vaccinations happened about six weeks ago, in early to mid-February.
The city’s eligibility rules make it so only frontline workers — a group that does not include restaurant workers — and people 65 and older are broadly eligible.
The What If Syndicate, a restaurant group that owns Maple & Ash, said it has not had “sanctioned vaccination events within our company.”
“If someone received the vaccine at this point, it was probably for the safety and health of their family,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.
Once restaurant workers are eligible to get vaccinated on Monday, the group will encourage staff to get shots and “will make it available through our year-long medical partner at an undetermined date in the month of April,” according to the statement.
A source close to Ahmed — who asked to remain anonymous because they fear retaliation — said he frequently dines at Maple & Ash and has spent thousands at the restaurant. On Feb. 10, the two were at the restaurant when, in front of the source, at least two higher-level employees thanked Ahmed for getting them vaccinated — and he told them he’d provide shots for other workers, the source said.
“Then [Ahmed] said that he was coming to do the rest of the whole entire staff, that he was coming to Maple & Ash to do it,” the source said.
Ahmed likes to host business meetings at the restaurant and the two would regularly eat meals that cost about $1,000 there, the source said.
The source provided multiple text messages to Block Club where Ahmed referenced going to eat at the restaurant, showing him talk about it four times in two months. Block Club obtained a photo and videos that show Ahmed at the restaurant. Metadata shows the videos were recorded at the same location as the restaurant.
Controversy At Loretto Hospital
Loretto Hospital has had its supply of coronavirus vaccine doses cut off by the city as officials investigate whether it’s been properly vaccinating people and reporting vaccinations. That came after Block Club reported on ineligible workers getting shots at Trump Tower, where multiple hospital leaders live. Ineligible Cook County judges were also offered shots at Loretto, according to a WBEZ report.
Shots were also administered to more than 200 members of the suburban church attended by Loretto CEO George Miller, who is also longtime friends with the church’s leader.
Ahmed came under scrutiny last week for the vaccinations at Trump Tower. The criticism intensified after Block Club reported he’d told people he vaccinated millionaire Eric Trump.
Ahmed — who later said he was joking about vaccinating Trump — owns a condo in Trump Tower and has told people he’s friends with Trump, who wouldn’t have been eligible for a vaccine in Chicago.
The city’s health department does not feel comfortable providing doses to Loretto given the controversies, its commissioner, Arwady told reporters Friday. She said her “biggest concern” is the hospital was vaccinating people who aren’t eligible — but she is also concerned officials prioritized vaccines for people “who were well-connected, really letting them jump the line.”
“It’s disappointing where providers that we are prioritizing are not choosing to really live by the mission [of] their organization, and I think it seems that was the case here,” Arwady said.
The hospital’s board said Friday it had taken “appropriate actions of reprimand against Miller and Ahmed for their role in the mistakes of judgment” — but members of the board have refused to reveal those punishments.
On Monday, the board held an emergency meeting and said it had created a corrective plan of action, but members again refused to say what they were planning to do or how they’d reprimanded Miller and Ahmed.
Rep. LaShawn Ford, a member of the board and representative of the area in the state Legislature, resigned Tuesday morning, saying the board needs to be more transparent.
The Loretto Board of Directors is conducting an audit of all off-site vaccination events, and it will share its findings with the Mayor’s Office and Chicago Department of Public Health, the hospital’s spokeswoman said.
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, Geneva Seal and Maple & Ash are in the Downtown area, where the virus’s impact has not been felt as much — 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.
But the hospital is now shrouded in controversy.
A Loretto Hospital staff member — who asked to remain anonymous because they fear retaliation — said the controversies are “infuriating” because “people are calling every day, waiting in line to get vaccinated” on the West Side.
The staff member said many of their coworkers at Loretto are “frustrated” and questioning how anyone at the hospital can be held accountable. The board should have fired Miller and Ahmed, the staff member said.
“We sort of have lost trust in the leadership at Loretto Hospital. We’ve lost trust in the board,” the staff member said. “It seems very, very corrupt, and it seems like their self-interests are much more important to them than serving the West Side of Chicago, which so many of us are passionate about, and so many of us are at the hospital for this reason.”
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