Lightfoot wants to help Loretto ‘get it right’ after another vaccine favoritism flap

The president and CEO of Affinity Health, which oversees COVID clinical trials at Loretto, requested 10 vaccinations for people he said were eligible under city vaccination guidelines, a Loretto spokesperson said. One was terminally ill, so all 10 were administered at a private home.

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Loretto Hospital

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday she has had “very productive conversations with members of the board as well as the CEO George Miller” before he went on a mandatory leave triggered by the scandal.

Sun-Times file

Under pressure from West Side elected officials, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday struck a more conciliatory and less punitive tone about the vaccine favoritism scandal at Loretto Hospital even as new questions emerged.

Lightfoot described Loretto as a “safety net hospital” pivotal to Chicago and saidshe is “committed to helping Loretto get it right because they’re so important to the West Side community.”

She added: “Obviously, they deviated from what I think is their core mission and what should have been the focus during this critical time period, which is driving vaccine exclusively to that West Side population that’s so in need and where we still have a lot of work to do to boost the numbers on the West Side.”

Two days after West Side elected officials urged City Hall to start sending vaccine to Loretto again, Lightfoot said she has had “very productive conversations with members of the board as well as the CEO George Miller” before he began a mandatory leave triggered by the scandal.

Late Monday night, a spokeswoman for Loretto said Miller’s two-week, unpaid leave was on hold for now while the hospital searches for a new COO and CFO. Dr. Anosh Ahmed resigned last week.

Earlier Monday, the mayor said, “We’re committed to helping Loretto get it right because they’re so important to the West Side community. But I’m anxious to see what the results are [from an independent audit]. This kind of drip, drip, drip in the media with a different story and all kinds of reports — that doesn’t help them. It also doesn’t build confidence that they are a trusted provider of the vaccine, which I think they understand.”

Even as the mayor softened her stance about Loretto, the “drip, drip, drip” of negative stories continued.

On Jan. 27, Dr. Ali Ahmed, president and CEO of Affinity Health, which oversees COVID clinical trials at Loretto, requested 10 vaccinations for individuals he identified as eligible for the vaccine under city guidelines, according to a Loretto spokesperson.

Since one of the 10 people was described as terminally ill, Ahmed asked that the vaccines be administered two days later “in the privacy of a home.” The request was approved “solely” by Loretto’s now former chief operating officer.

Loretto has the “online vaccination submissions” for the 10 vaccinated individuals but refused to release the names, citing federal privacy law.

“A request by a hospital partner to vaccinate a terminally ill woman and nine other individuals, including her family members, was made in late January and was approved by a former executive who is no longer employed at Loretto,” Becky Carroll, a spokeswoman for the hospital, wrote in an emailed statement.

“While information provided at the time deemed that these individuals were eligible per city vaccination guidelines, Loretto is no longer approving off-site visits that aren’t either hosted by the hospital or community partners and organizations.”

Miller and Anosh Ahmed came under fire earlier this month when Block Club Chicago blew the lid off a vaccine favoritism scandal that embarrassed Lightfoot and prompted the mayor to cut off the hospital’s vaccine supply.

They were accused of doling out precious doses of the coronavirus vaccine to workers at Trump International Hotel & Tower, where Ahmed owns a condo; to employees at a Gold Coast jewelry store where he shops; and at a steakhouse where he frequently dines.

Miller provided vaccine doses to more than 200 members of his southwest suburban church.

Ahmed said he resigned to avoid becoming a “distraction.” But he stood by the “good work the hospital is doing to fight COVID-19” and claimed “only 200” ineligible people among more than 16,000 recipients got the vaccine under his watch.

Lightfoot said it’s not her place to “tell Loretto what they should be doing with their personnel” or whether, given the latest revelation, the Loretto board should ask Miller for his resignation.

But she said it’s “discouraging” Loretto had “so little” control over “this precious supply of vaccine.”

“Which is why, as soon as I heard the first story, I told them do an audit. Do it quickly, make it independent so it will be credible. … Rip the bandage off and come clean with what has happened with the vaccine that you were trusted with so it’s not death by a thousand cuts,” she said.

“Unfortunately, this thing has now lingered. ... We’re in week two of this story. It’snot helping anybody ... and it’s particularly not helping people have confidence that the hospital is doing what it’s sworn to do. Which is to really be a safe space for people on the West Side who need connection to high quality health care.”


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