AUSTIN — A West Side group has launched a petition calling for the removal of Loretto Hospital’s president after it was discovered the Austin medical center improperly vaccinated ineligible people at Trump Tower, a suburban church, a luxury jewelry store and other spots.
One of the hospital’s leaders, Chief Operating Officer Dr. Anosh Ahmed, stepped down earlier this week amid the controversy. But Loretto President George Miller still sits at the helm of Loretto, though he took responsibility for the Trump Tower vaccinations and organized for people to be vaccinated at his south suburban church. More than 200 people got shots at the event, which happened in early February, when doses were hard to come by.
The hospital’s board said 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 say how Miller has been disciplined.
Those actions are not enough to restore the community’s confidence in the safety-net hospital, said resident Mary Gardner. Her organization, Women of the 7th Congressional District, started a petition Wednesday demanding the board remove Miller from the hospital’s executive team. Twenty-four people have signed the online petition as of Friday morning.
“I’m disappointed we have not heard Mr. Miller stepping aside,” said Gardner, a former candidate for alderman of the 29th Ward. “There is no way Mr. Miller can continue to lead Loretto Hospital. This is gross negligence of public trust. It is a disgrace.”
Gardner was “so insulted and so disappointed” by the lack of concrete action from the board, she said, since the improper vaccination events took desperately-needed vaccines out of the neighborhood when many residents are still struggling to access them.
“Those vaccines could have been administered throughout … Austin, Garfield, Lawndale. Our community could have been covered because we’re the ones specifically that are falling far behind in terms of getting vaccinated,” Gardner said.
Ahmed resigned Wednesday amid mounting controversy over the scandals. Several of the unauthorized events happened at places Ahmed was connected to — like Trump Tower, where he lives; the Geneva Seal jewelry store, where he’s been a frequent customer; and workers of Maple & Ash, a restaurant he frequents.
There were also the vaccination event at Miller’s suburban church. And WBEZ has reported on ineligible Cook County judges being offered shots at Loretto, as well as the hospital vaccinating ineligible members of a Greek church.
As a safety-net hospital, Loretto is critically important to residents of the West Side. But without definitive action to separate the hospital from the actions of its leaders, Loretto’s reputation will suffer, which will harm patients, residents and employees, Gardner said. She started the petition to give ordinary Austin residents a platform to demand accountability so the hospital could restore its credibility, she said.
It would be unfortunate for the scandal to tarnish the reputation of Loretto Hospital and the major strides it has made in the quality of care and community outreach in recent years, said Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th).
“Although a lot of egregious mistakes were made with vaccinations, I just don’t want to lose sight of the good accomplishments that they had at the hospital,” Taliaferro said.
The hospital played a key role in distributing personal protective equipment and vaccine testing on the West Side during the pandemic, Taliaferro said. Loretto has also strengthened its community partnerships in recent years, he said.
“I think that Loretto can rebuild, as they have in the past, and I look forward to that. Most importantly, they need to make a decision as a board on whether they’re going to move forward under George Miller’s leadership,” Taliaferro said.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said there needs to be an independent investigation at Loretto — which the hospital has not committed to. State Rep. Marty Moylan, who represents northwest suburbs, has called for an independent investigation into the hospital’s vaccinations, as well.
Lightfoot said the hospital will need to work to “rebuild trust in their own community” in light of the scandals.
The SEIU Healthcare Illinois union representing 190 employees at Loretto thinks hospital leaders alone should be held accountable for the controversy, and Ahmed’s resignation is a start to restoring trust, union President Greg Kelley said in a news release. The union has urged the city to start sending doses back to Loretto, as cutting off the hospital only hurts West Side residents, Kelley said.
“Our members at Loretto were daily witness to vaccination irregularities and were early voices in raising the alarm that vaccine doses were being improperly redirected away from the high-risk Austin community,” Kelley said in a statement. “… It is our fervent hope that the board will now take the additional steps needed to ensure that worker and community voices are heard both in redressing the impact of these misappropriated vaccine doses.”
The only way for Loretto to rebuild is for Miller to be removed so West side residents can have faith that their community hospital will prioritize the community, not those who have access and connections, Gardner said.
“It’s important that folks know that when I go in here, I get my medical needs met. I don’t have to be a friend of a friend, or related, none of that. I have to know … if I have a medical need, it will be met at Loretto Hospital,” Gardner said.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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