Lee Health board to Florida governor: Shift from hospital-based vaccine distribution compromising healthcare worker access

The publicly elected board of Fort Myers, Fla.-based Lee Health is urging state officials to send more COVID-19 vaccines to hospitals to boost access to shots for healthcare workers, the News-Press reported.

The remarks came in a letter dated Feb. 1. The letter, shared with Becker's, was sent to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis; Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, MD; Jared Moskowitz, director of the state's division of emergency management; and Shevaun Harris, secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

In the letter, board members spoke against the state's COVID-19 vaccine policies that increasingly send vaccine shipments to county health department offices and entities such as Publix Pharmacies, rather than hospitals. They added that these policies are hurting efforts to get healthcare workers inoculated and have hindered efforts to combat the virus.

"The shift away from hospital-based vaccine distribution has had the unintended consequence of compromising the access for frontline healthcare workers to vaccine," board members wrote. "Utilization of the current distribution model results in healthcare workers being unable to obtain vaccine in a timely fashion. Our healthcare workers are focused on bedside treatment of patients and do not have the flexibility to participate in the protracted computer scheduling and public inoculation process."

They also said Lee Health has the refrigeration equipment necessary to maintain the Pfizer shot.

State officials have said there is more demand for vaccines than supply, and that residents older than 65 are a priority, in addition to healthcare workers.

A Florida Agency for Health Care Administration representative told the News-Press via email that the agency does not decide where shots are distributed. Other state offices did not return the newspaper's request for comment on Feb. 2.

Lee Health has about 13,000 employees and had vaccinated about 5,700 as of Jan. 21.

Spokesperson Jonathon Little told Becker's that Lee Health received 1,000 Moderna vaccine doses from the state this week — the only first round doses received since Jan. 21 — with instructions to administer 900 of them to patients under the age of 65 who have underlying conditions. He said the remaining 100 will be used for second doses for people who have already received the first.

"We are contacting patients directly and ask that they not call in to request an appointment. Doing so overwhelms our phone lines and prevents others who are calling on other business to connect with the health system," he said. "To keep distribution fair and unbiased we are contacting patients based on risk level, and we will not be able to make any appointments for those who call in to check their eligibility."

Read the full News-Press article here


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