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State Investigating Reports Of Diverted Vaccinations To Nursing Home Donors

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
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The Florida Channel
A spokesperson for the Macks said they were helping MorseLife Health System in its efforts to distribute the vaccine and did nothing wrong.

According to reports, the chief executive of a West Palm Beach long-term care facility offered COVID-19 vaccinations to board members and donors.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday that the state is investigating allegations that an upscale West Palm Beach nursing home diverted scarce COVID-19 vaccinations meant for residents and staff to members of the facility’s board of directors and donors.

Appearing at a press conference in Vero Beach, DeSantis said that the Florida Department of Health concluded its investigation into reports that MorseLife Health System chief executive Keith Myers offered vaccinations to some of the long-term care facility’s board members and wealthy donors.

DeSantis said he also directed Florida Inspector General Melinda Miguel to investigate the allegations in stories published this week.

On Monday, the New York Post reported that real estate moguls Bill and David S. Mack arranged for their “wealthy friends from Manhattan and the ritzy Palm Beach Country Club to get the COVID-19 vaccine at a Florida retirement home.”

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that MorseLife made the vaccinations “available not just to its residents but to board members and those who made generous donations to the facility, including members of the Palm Beach Country Club, according to multiple people who were offered access, some of whom accepted it.”

David Mack is a member of various MorseLife boards and chairman of the country club foundation's board.

DeSantis said Thursday the state started the investigation “as soon as we found out about it.”

“We think we’ll have something pretty soon on that,” he added.

Meredith Beatrice, a spokeswoman for Gov. Ron DeSantis, said in an email to The Associated Press that the governor “has been extremely clear that vaccine should only be administered to Florida’s seniors 65 and older, front-line health care workers, and long-term care facility residents and staff.”

“We are investigating this situation and will hold any bad actors accountable,” she wrote.

George Shea, a spokesman for the Mack brothers, said in a statement that the Macks were helping MorseLife in its efforts to distribute the vaccine and did nothing wrong. He said the vaccinations followed state protocols by limiting those given to non-employees to people who are 65 and older.

The governor’s remarks came on the heels of Sen. Rick Scott’s call for an investigation into the allegation.

"It is absolutely disgusting and immoral that anyone would take vaccines intended for nursing home residents to distribute them to their friends," Scott, a Republican and former Florida governor, said in a statement released Thursday. "This type of gross mismanagement will not be tolerated, and those responsible must be held accountable."

The federal government inked agreements last year with CVS and Walgreens to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to staff and residents of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

Hospital frontl-ine health care workers and residents of the long-term care facilities were the initial groups of people who qualified for Pfizer Inc. and Moderna vaccinations.

DeSantis on Dec. 23 announced that he was broadening eligibility to include all health care workers as well as people who are 65 or older.

The move led to chaos, resulting in jammed phone lines, overwhelmed websites and, in some instances, lines of seniors camping out over night to be first in line for vaccines.

DeSantis emphasized Thursday that the vaccinations at the center of the controversy were not supplied by hospitals or county health departments, but were part of the federal arrangement with retail pharmacies.

“The nursing home and long-term care program is for residents and staff of long-term care facilities. That’s who it's for. Look, if you’re not a resident or a member of a long-term care facility but you’re 65 and up, there’s other options for you. We want you to get vaccinated. But to go under that rubric when you are not a resident and you’re not a staff member, that is definitely going outside of what the guidance is and what the program is for,” the governor said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Copyright 2021 WLRN 91.3 FM.

Christine Sexton – News Service of Florida