Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare (TMH) offered its Board of Directors, even those who are not doctors and who are not over the age of 65, vaccination against COVID-19, not long after the hospital’s initial receipt of its 6,700 doses on December 23.
This comes as U.S. Senator Rick Scott and Governor Ron DeSantis, according to multiple reports, are pushing for investigations into a nursing home in West Palm Beach that allegedly vaccinated its board of directors and wealthy donors, along with its senior residents.
According to Tallahassee Memorial Chief Communications Officer Stephanie Derzypolski, the board was offered the vaccine but she could not yet confirm exactly when it was offered.
“I don’t know if it was by email or exactly how they were notified but I know it was discussed at the executive level. They are a part of our team. We offered it to our healthcare team, and they (the members of the board) are in and out of the hospital. Many of them are also in the vulnerable population over the age of 65,” Derzypolski told The Capitolist.
At least three of the board members appear to be under the age of 65 and Derzypolski could not verify which board members had actually received the COVID vaccine to date. A source says at least one of the members under 65 has received the vaccine.
TMH Board Chair Lee Hinkle, who is over 65, said she received her first dose Tuesday, January 5. She said she was offered the vaccine at some point while she was out of town, although she doesn’t know exactly when. She said she was visiting her mother, who is suffering with COVID.
She said what she remembered of her conversation with the hospital was “they were talking with those over 65.”
When asked if board members under the age of 65 who received the vaccine, she said, “you know, I don’t know that.”
She was asked if she thought it was appropriate for TMH board members to get the vaccine before the general community or if she thought the board was at high-risk. She said, “Like everyone else 65 and over, I wanted the shot. I really didn’t give it a lot of thought.”
Several of the TMH board members are prestigious medical doctors who may be in frequent contact with patients, which is one of the qualification guidelines to receive the vaccine.
But others, like Hinkle, are well-known community and business leaders, including Kelly Dozier, who along with her husband share an ownership stake in Mad Dog Construction, a prominent builder in Tallahassee.
Another high profile board member, Sally Bradshaw, is a nationally known former senior advisor to Jeb Bush. She served as his chief of staff when he was governor of Florida and advised his presidential campaign in 2016. Records show Bradshaw is approximately 55 years old. It’s unclear what criteria would qualify her to jump the line to receive the vaccine before older patients with medical complications in the community who are at higher risk of complications from COVID-19.
Bradshaw did not return messages seeking comment for this story.
Among the other members of the TMH board who are not medical doctors: Ed Murray, Jr.; Martha Barnett; Reverend Brant Copeland; Steve Evans; Winston Howell; and Claude Walker.
At the time TMH board members received access to the vaccine, thousands of high-risk Leon County and surrounding county residents have been left in limbo, waiting to see if they will get a dose of the scarce vaccines in this first round or even second round of distribution.
Charles Darnell, a 77-year-old Vietnam vet on full disability, including chronic COPD, signed up with the Leon County Health Department on the first day registration was available. He has not received the vaccine or even a confirmation of an appointment.
When learning TMH’s board of directors were offered the vaccine already, he said, “It sounds like they are cutting in line and using their position to take care of themselves first and the hell with everybody else.”
Derzypolski defended the board’s vaccinations saying, “They are inside the hospital. They come in for meetings, frequently.”
Derzypolski responded to questions about whether the board should have been vaccinated before other regular citizens over 65 with, “I just think it’s silly to go down this road. We’ve done so much for the community. I can definitely assure you, we made sure all of our frontline staff were vaccinated before anyone. We tiered it based on the most high-risk areas. Without even questioning it, we handled all of our high-risk front-line people first.”
“There are so many good stories out there. It is a little frustrating,” said Derzypolski, clearly unhappy with the questioning. “We have busted our …” She stopped herself and then continued, “We have worked so hard to do the right thing.”
A January 7 statement on the TMH website regarding the distribution of the COVID vaccine admits it not just seniors in Leon County who have not received the vaccine, “There are still healthcare workers in our community who would like the COVID-19 vaccine and have not received it yet.
“TMH has worked with Capital Regional Medical Center to identify vaccine doses that can be used to immediately fill this unmet need. Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare has also partnered with the Leon County Department of Health to distribute 6,000 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to Leon County residents 65 years and older. Once the vaccines are in hand, Capital Health Plan, Tallahassee Primary Care Associates and TMH Physician Partners will be administering the vaccine to eligible patients.
“These organizations have established vaccine medical teams who have carefully set criteria and thoughtfully reviewed patients who will be eligible to receive these initial 6,000 doses. Patients were selected based on their age, current health conditions and overall health status to ensure the patients with the greatest need receive the vaccine first.“