Good Samaritan Hospital unveiled new screening measures to ensure it complies with county vaccination rules, after its COO in January encouraged a select group of teachers to skip the line ahead of more vulnerable groups.
The hospital submitted a plan Jan. 28 to county health officials outlining on how it will follow the rules, a requirement before it can receive any more COVID-19 vaccines.
The hospital found itself embroiled in scandal after its COO, Gary Purushotham, told Los Gatos Union School District Superintendent Paul Johnson that staff and teachers could falsely register as health care workers to get vaccine appointments. Amid a shortage in vaccine supply, more vulnerable residents — including seniors — have not yet been inoculated. By claiming they were health care workers, 65 teachers and staff from the affluent school district cut the line and got their shots.
Los Gatos teachers were instructed by Johnson to claim they were eligible for the vaccine under penalty of perjury. Teachers are not yet eligible for the vaccine in Santa Clara County.
The hospital faced widespread scrutiny after San José Spotlight first reported the story and was sanctioned by the county.
Santa Clara County’s COVID-19 Testing Officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib told Good Samaritan the county would withhold future vaccine doses until the hospital agreed to follow state guidelines on vaccine distribution and submit a plan for doing so.
The hospital last week submitted a two-page plan from its CEO Joe Deschryver. The plan detailed immediate steps officials took to address their missteps and future plans to ensure vaccine compliance.
DeSchryver said the hospital’s chief medical officer and an associate nursing officer will oversee its vaccine clinic. The hospital also canceled vaccination appointments for “any and all non-Tier 1a community members.” That tier includes health care workers and long-term care facility residents.
The plan also calls for increased screening for vaccine-eligible patients, including a new 3-point check system to ensure adherence to the county’s vaccine distribution plan. Checks will occur at the entrance to the hospital, outside the vaccine clinic and again within the clinic.
Patients will have to prove their eligibility with a government-issued photo ID, as well as proof of their occupation with either “an ID badge, pay stub or business card.”
DeSchryver said Good Samaritan will not begin to vaccinate anyone beyond Tier 1 until it “exerts all efforts to vaccinate all health care workers in Phase 1A” and will follow a contingency plan to prevent vaccine wastage. The hospital will follow a CDC and county-approved formula for how to administer extra doses to people in lower priority tiers.
If the hospital has extra vaccine doses at risk of spoiling, DeSchryver said the hospital will seek county approval before offering it to anyone not yet eligible for a vaccine.
Vaccine clinic staff will also debrief daily to ensure the 3-point check system was followed. The plan includes training for staff and an escalation plan to voice concerns. The hospital will not continue its COVID-19 vaccines until it receives approval from the county, except for second doses.
But some say they’re having trouble getting a second dose of the vaccine from Good Samaritan.
Fallout hurts patients
As the hospital scrambles to comply with guidelines and get back into the county’s good graces, some patients are caught in the middle.
Irina Zaliznyak, a 61-year-old health care provider, received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Good Samaritan and was expected to get her second shot on Feb. 16.
However, unlike other providers in the county, her appointment wasn’t scheduled the same day as her first shot.
Zaliznyak was told to go home and book online through the hospital’s website. But when she went to go book her second vaccine appointment — after the county threatened to withhold vaccines from Good Samaritan — she said there were no appointments available.
“My problem with this is, why is it so difficult?” said Zaliznyak. “You’re supposed to give me the second dose. This is all I need. Just send me an email.”
By Monday night, Zaliznyak had still not gotten an answer on how to get her second shot.
First, she called Good Samaritan Hospital’s main line.
“I was told to go to county website and check there,” Zaliznyak said. “I responded that I already checked the website and still (was) not clear which place I can go.”
The operator transferred her to “someone who can help.” After waiting for an hour, the call was cut off.
Next, Zaliznyak called the county’s COVID-19 vaccination hotline. The operator recommended contacting Good Samaritan Hospital — putting her right where she started. Zaliznyak eventually called Good Samaritan’s patient relations line.
“(They said) we aren’t doing any vaccinations now, you have to work with county to figure it out,” Zaliznyak said. Frustrated, she gave up, vowing to try again the next day.
In response to patients like Zaliznyak losing access to the vaccine due to the scandal, hospital officials assured everyone who got a first dose will get a second one.
“The county has provided Good Samaritan with enough vaccine supply to administer second doses to anyone who received their first dose from our clinic,” said Antonio Castelan, a spokesman HCA Healthcare, Good Samaritan’s owner. “A few days prior to their second dose time frame, we will reach out directly to those people with further information about scheduling an appointment.”
County officials confirmed they’re working with Good Samaritan to ensure it has adequate supply for second doses.
According to the county’s COVID-19 dashboard, Good Samaritan has administered about 1,600 second doses of vaccine as of Feb. 1 and has enough supply to administer about 3,800 total shots.
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