SPRINGFIELD — State Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford on Friday defended George Miller, the CEO of Loretto Hospital, where the west suburban senator serves as a board member and is the namesake of its emergency department, built with state funds she helped secure.
Despite the swirling coronavirus vaccine scandal at the West Side hospital, Lightford said Miller is “one of our best presidents that we’ve had.”
Lightford’s show of support for Miller comes as ousted hospital executive Dr. Anosh Ahmed issued a statement saying he resigned as chief operating officer and chief financial officer this week “because I was becoming a distraction to the heroic work being performed by the nurses, doctors and staff throughout the pandemic.”
He maintains that “many” of the allegations against him were “inaccurate or patently false,” but he also admitted that only a quarter of those vaccinated at the hospital were residents of the surrounding Austin neighborhood.
“Unfortunately, stories of my involvement of providing vaccines outside of the community became daily media and political fodder instead of focusing on the pandemic and expanding access to healthcare services in the Austin community and beyond,” Ahmed said in a statement Friday.
Ahmed and Miller first came under scrutiny following revelations from Block Club Chicago that the hospital improperly provided vaccinations to workers at Trump Tower, where Ahmed lives; a luxury watch shop on the Gold Coast where Ahmed shops; and a high-priced steakhouse that Ahmed frequents.
Miller has drawn criticism for authorizing the Trump Tower vaccinations and providing vaccine to more than 200 members of his southwest suburban church.
He has not stepped down but apologized last week.
“Have mercy on me O God,” Miller wrote on Facebook. “Forgive me for going my own way and not aligning my life with Your perfect will. I confess that I have been misguided by my own self-serving purposes and have lost sight of Your face.”
At an unrelated news conference Friday, Lightford — a 21-year Loretto board member — voiced strong support for Miller.
“It’s important that we continue to provide quality health care to the Austin community, and we do not at this time see Mr. Miller as being a detriment to our efforts,” she said.
The Maywood Democrat said Miller hadn’t made contributions to her campaign fund, but state election board records show that in 2019 Miller made a $2,500 contribution to the Senate Democratic Leadership Fund, which Lightford oversees as chair.
The hospital’s “Kimberly A. Lightford Emergency Department” is named after the senator. It was built in 2009 with “$8.2 million in capital improvement funds received from Lightford,” according to the hospital’s website.
Another board member, state Rep. La Shawn Ford, resigned from the panel earlier this week, saying the hospital’s reprimands of Ahmed and Miller were insufficient.
“I am very disappointed with the recent developments at The Loretto Hospital regarding its use of coronavirus vaccine entrusted to the hospital,” the West Side Democrat said in a statement issued Tuesday morning. “Yesterday, I submitted my resignation … because I strongly disagreed with how the reprimand of the hospital leadership was handled.”
Before his resignation, Ahmed had been reprimanded by the hospital behind closed doors and given a 60-day suspension, a source told Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell on Wednesday.
In his statement, Ahmed said he was “dismayed” Loretto did not reveal data from the hospital’s vaccination audit, which he calls “exculpatory.”
According to Ahmed, the hospital has administered over 23,000 COVID-19 tests and vaccinated 16,000 people. Of those, only 200 vaccinated patients were deemed to be unqualified to get their shot.
In a statement, Loretto Hospital said that the audit Ahmed referenced “has not yet been completed,” but once it is, the data will be shared “far and wide.”
“Loretto has been at the forefront of the pandemic from day one to care for and protect Black and Brown communities from not only Austin but neighborhoods facing underserved healthcare needs throughout the west side, providing 23,000 COVID tests and over 16,000 vaccinations — the overwhelming majority of which went to people of color,” the statement read.
Earlier this week, Mayor Lori Lightfoot cut off the hospital from receiving any more first-dose vaccinations.
“We have very robust oversight,” Lightfoot said at a news conference Wednesday. “We have a right to expect — and per our contract — that people abide by the rules and they give us accurate reporting. And what we’ve seen in at least two instances, that hasn’t been the case.”
In his statement, Ahmed pleaded for the mayor to reverse her decision.
“I am proud of the work we were able to accomplish during my tenure at the hospital and I hope, with my resignation, they will continue to move in the positive direction and remain an asset to the community,” he said. “It is my hope the city will immediately reinstate Loretto’s supply of COVID-19 vaccines.”