A South Bay hospital’s decision to allow affluent educators to skip the line for a COVID-19 vaccine could have legal implications.
San José Spotlight has learned that the county District Attorney’s Office is examining whether any laws were violated when Good Samaritan allowed teachers and staff at the Los Gatos Union School District to receive vaccines ahead of more vulnerable populations by pretending to be health care workers.
“We are aware of the allegations and are looking into the matter,” said Sean Webby, spokesman for the District Attorney’s office.
As first reported by San José Spotlight on Jan. 22, Los Gatos Union School District Superintendent Paul Johnson emailed teachers and staff telling them they can sign up to get a vaccine at Good Samaritan at the behest of the hospital’s chief operating officer. Johnson told staff that the hospital is offering vaccines because they have “not forgotten” the school district’s campaign last year to raise funds to buy meals for hospital workers.
And since Santa Clara County is only vaccinating health care workers and people over age 75 right now, Johnson instructed staff to “sign up under the healthcare buttons.”
The Los Gatos teachers and staff who signed up under the health care option had to attest to being health care workers under penalty of perjury. That raises questions about whether Johnson, the hospital’s leadership or others might have committed conspiracy to commit perjury while signing up for vaccines.
On Monday, County Counsel James Williams said the legal implications are indeed concerning.
“When people come for vaccinations … we’re not requiring in the county’s health system and other health systems are not requiring, any extensive documentation. But we are requiring people to attest — that means under penalty of perjury — to affirm their eligibility,” Williams said. “And that system relies in people being truthful.”
That’s why perjury is a crime, Williams said.
“So yes, it is very concerning that someone is suggesting people should affirmatively select a category that does not represent who they are,” Williams said.
Webby declined to provide any more details Monday.
Johnson denied that the vaccines for teachers had been part of a quid pro quo, and apologized to Los Gatos teachers and staff for the “miscommunication” in a follow-up email obtained by San José Spotlight.
The county follows state guidelines for vaccine distribution, but has been dealing with short supply. Even though state guidelines allow for vaccination of those 65 years and older, most providers in Santa Clara County are vaccinating residents 75 and older due to the limited vaccines available.
Good Samaritan itself reported to the county it is only vaccinating health care workers due to the shortage.
Hours after this news organization’s report, Santa Clara County’s COVID-19 Testing Officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib sent a letter to Good Samaritan saying the county would withhold future vaccine doses from the hospital until it agreed to follow state guidelines on vaccine distribution and submit a plan for doing so.
“The County will provide Good Samaritan with sufficient vaccine doses to complete vaccination of those people who Good Samaritan has already administered a first vaccine dose for,” Fenstersheib wrote, “but the County will not provide Good Samaritan with any additional vaccine doses unless and until Good Samaritan provides sufficient assurances it will follow State and County direction on vaccine eligibility and provides the County with a concrete plan through with Good Samaritan will do so.”
Good Samaritan Hospital CEO Joe DeSchryver said the decision to administer the vaccines was in “order to avoid wasting supply that was already thawed.”
“Subsequently, we realized we were in error and do sincerely apologize for any confusion this may have caused to our community and our colleagues,” DeSchryver said. “We are committed to working with the county on a plan to assure we have clarity and are adhering to the state and county guidelines on vaccine eligibility, which we have done so prior to this isolated incident.”
DeSchryver said the hospital is conducting an internal investigation “to ensure this does not happen again.”
Good Samaritan has not responded to questions about whether it’s submitted a plan to the county to receive more vaccine doses.