New York threatens fines if hospitals don't speed up COVID vaccine rollout
ALBANY – Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered New York hospitals to use up their current inventory of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of the week as part of an effort to speed up the state's lagging vaccination effort, threatening to fine the facilities up to $100,000 each if they don't comply.
About 300,000 New York residents have received the first dose of the novel coronavirus vaccine, but only 46% of doses allotted to hospitals have been administered.
On Monday, Cuomo said the Department of Health will issue regulations intended to boost the process, threatening to disqualify hospitals and health care providers from administering future vaccine doses if they are unable to use them within seven days of receipt.
The regulation will take effect immediately: Hospitals have until the end of the week to use up their current supply or face a fine, Cuomo said at his COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol on Monday.
"I don’t want the vaccine in a refrigerator. I want it in someone's arm," Cuomo said. "So yes, I’m being aggressive."
Vaccine rollout lags nationwide
Nationwide, about 4.2 million people had received the first COVID-19 vaccine dose as of Saturday morning, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That was less than a third of the 13 million doses that had been distributed across the country by that time.
In New York, vaccines have largely been limited to health care workers, nursing home residents and staff, along with residents of group homes and addiction facilities and funeral workers who have contact with bodily fluids.
Cuomo on Monday pointed to the vaccine rollout in nursing homes and hospitals, suggesting both have been slower than the state would prefer.
New York opted into a federal program that partnered with CVS and Walgreens to administer the vaccine to nursing home patients and staff. As of Monday, residents at 288 of the state's 611 nursing homes — or 47% — had received the first dose.
Cuomo said New York will supplement the federal program with state staff this week, which will allow residents from another 234 nursing homes to receive the first dose. From there, the state is hoping the remaining homes will be vaccinated in the next two weeks.
Hospitals seeing wide disparity in vaccine effort
Hospitals throughout the state, meanwhile, are showing a wide disparity in the speed in which they are administering their vaccine allotment. Statewide, less than half of the doses provided to hospitals had been administered by Monday, Cuomo said.
Bea Grause, president of the Healthcare Association of New York State, an Albany-based organization presenting hospitals, said hospitals are "going above and beyond" by managing an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations simultaneously with the vaccination effort.
"They are following the state’s guidance and doing everything they can to get vaccines quickly administered to eligible individuals," Grause said of hospitals. "They’ll continue to do so."
During his briefing, Cuomo displayed a chart of the top 10 and bottom 10 hospital systems by the percentage of their vaccine supply remaining.
Some, including the New York-Presbyterian system, have already administered 99% of their allotment.
Statewide, 10 hospitals or hospital systems have administered at least 62%, including Finger Lakes Health (77%), University of Rochester Medical Center (68%) and Erie County Medical Center (62%), according to the state.
By contrast, at least nine systems had distributed 32% or less by Monday, including Westchester Medical Center (32%), Montefiore (30%), Rochester Regional Health System (25%), and Nuvance Health (24%).
By Monday afternoon, Rochester Regional Health had administered 44% of its allocation, according to the hospital system.
"With the arrival of additional vaccines this week, Rochester Regional Health expanded clinics to all employees who work in clinical areas and anticipates a large increase in the vaccination administration percentage in the coming days," according to a statement issued by the organization.
John Nelson, spokesperson for of the Nuvance Health network, declined to respond to inquiries regarding the statistics shared by Cuomo, the reason for why less than a quarter of its allocation was used, or if it planned to use the full allocation by the end of the week.
The group, which includes seven hospitals such as Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie, Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck and Putnam Hospital in Carmel, issued a statement saying its vaccination clinics have been opened since Dec. 21 "in accordance with when the state of New York delivered vaccines to us."
"Since then, we have been vaccinating our healthcare workers who want one," the statement read. "There is excitement about vaccines across our health system and we will continue to offer them following federal and state distribution guidelines.”
Cuomo's office also included United Health Services Hospitals in the Southern Tier among the slower-vaccinating hospitals, claiming the hospital system administered only 25% of its allotment.
But Christina Boyd, a spokesperson for UHS, said that figure was a data error: The hospital system had actually administered 80% and is well on track to meet the governor's end-of-the-week deadline.
No one reason causing delay, Cuomo says
Cuomo said there's no one cause leading some hospitals to struggle getting their vaccine doses out the door, but rather an assortment of logistical, bureaucratic and strategic issues.
"I've spoken to dozens of hospitals," he said. "It's all of the above. There is no one cause but let's just remember what we're doing here."
Last week, Cuomo issued an executive order threatening a fine of up to $1 million for each dose of the vaccine administered to someone who is not yet supposed to get it based on the state's prioritization schedule.
But Cuomo dismissed the idea that the threat of the fine may have slowed down the vaccine rollout, saying it is intended to dissuade action that is blatantly fraudulent, such as a provider intentionally distributing the vaccine to the general public before authorized.
"The federal government set guidance on prioritization of who should receive first vaccines," he said. "We agreed with the federal government on the top priority."
Includes reporting by Poughkeepsie Journal staff writer Saba Ali.
Jon Campbell is a New York state government reporter for the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at JCAMPBELL1@Gannett.com or on Twitter at @JonCampbellGAN.