I was pleasantly surprised when Loretto Hospital, a small hospital in Austin, was chosen to kick off the city’s campaign to get Chicagoans vaccinated against the deadly COVID-19 virus.
The city’s honor did two things:
- It pushed the issue of health care disparities from handwringing to action.
- And it elevated the profile of a community hospital that desperately needed its own shot in the arm.
Sandwiched between the massive Loyola University Medical Center in nearby Maywood and the sprawling medical district to the east, Loretto has struggled to be recognized as a credible provider of care in an area that desperately needs access to quality health care.
Hospitals like Loretto have suffered because too often community residents with financial resources and good insurance choose to go elsewhere.
Unfortunately, the goings-on since those first shots of the Pfizer vaccine went to Loretto’s hospital workers are shocking. Instead of focusing on the Austin community, where there is no shortage of people waiting to be vaccinated, the vaccine also was given to workers at Trump Tower’s posh hotel and apartments — where Loretto’s chief operating officer, Dr. Anosh Ahmed, owns a unit.
Before the furor died down over that came reports that Cook County judges and their spouses were “invited” to get shots even though it wasn’t their turn. And then this bombshell Friday: 200 members of the hospital CEO’s church, Valley Kingdom Ministries International in Oak Forest, were given doses of Loretto’s supply of the coveted vaccine.
Instead of Loretto’s image getting a much-needed makeover, these shenanigans just reinforce the perception the hospital is subpar.
By the time Block Club Chicago broke the news of the church vaccinations on Friday afternoon, the city’s health department already had taken action, decreeing that Loretto would not receive any first doses next week, though the agency said “people who were vaccinated through Loretto can get their second doses on time.”
The leadership team behind this fiasco — particularly George Miller, who’s the president and CEO, and Ahmed — need more than the “harsh reprimand” that state Rep. LaShawn Ford, who’s on the hospital’s board, promised would happen.
I see an exit door in their future. Because even if these executives misunderstood the guidelines for administering the vaccine, there’s no excuse for not knowing the hospital’s primary mission should be to provide for those in the predominantly Black community the hospital traditionally serves — not people in a suburb.
If the judges and their spouses came to Austin to get vaccines not knowing they were butting the line, then shame on them. The news media have harped on who is eligible for the vaccine ever since the vaccines became available. If these judges don’t like how the shots are doled out, that doesn’t give them the right to go to the front of the line.
And the very idea that hotel workers at Trump Tower could get concierge service for the vaccine makes Loretto a laughingstock. At this point, 2.5 million people in America are getting vaccinated per day, and two out of three adults 65 and older have gotten “at least their first shot,” according to Friday’s White House press briefing.
But while vaccination numbers are improving, those who are Black and Latino are still far less likely to have been vaccinated than whites.
The city can hold Loretto’s leaders accountable without punishing the people in Austin by making it more difficult for them to access the shots. They did nothing wrong.
It also would be unfair to stigmatize Loretto’s front-line health care workers further. They have given it their all during the pandemic.
It’s the hospital’s leaders who have squandered this opportunity to rise.