A northwest Georgia hospital vaccinated hundreds of relatives of employees against COVID-19, another example of a hospital not following Georgia’s rules about who’s eligible to get the medication.
Floyd Medical Center CEO Kurt Stuenkel tells WAGA-TV that he decided to make the vaccine available to people living with employees of the Rome hospital. That policy has since been reversed.
Georgia is seeking to vaccinate people in phases because of limited supply. Family members of medical workers aren’t eligible yet unless they fit one of the approved criteria like working as a police officer, firefighter or medical worker themselves or being at least 65 years old.
Floyd Medical said 766 nonemployees have received shots, although some could have been eligible anyway.
The hospital’s action came to light after state Department of Public Health officials suspended supplies of vaccine to an Elberton medical clinic that vaccinated 177 employees of the Elbert County school system.
The state reports that more than 1 million doses of vaccine have been administered statewide. Georgia’s newly reported COVID-19 cases have declined sharply since peaking in early January, but are still averaging more than 5,000 a day. The state has the second-highest rate of people hospitalized with COVID-19 behind Arizona, according to numbers compiled by the COVID Tracking Project. Nearly 15,000 people have died statewide, with more than 900,000 cases confirmed by tests.
Dr. Chris Rustin, the Department of Public Health’s incident commander for vaccine planning, described himself as “concerned” and said the department is investigating, but has not cut off vaccine supplies to Floyd Medical. Rustin said Stuenkel did not get prior permission, although he did notify the Floyd County Health Department of his plans.
“We’ve been very clear we have limited supplies of the vaccine and that the phases are designed for a specific purpose,” Rustin said, saying no decision on punishment has been made.
Stuenkel said he took the action to try to increase the number of employees who could come to work. At the time vaccinations started, he said Floyd Medical was facing 30% worker absenteeism, in part because of workers exposed to COVID-19 from sick family members.
“We did this for the best motives, in order to make our staff available,” he said.
Stuenkel said he interpreted the rules as allowing the hospital to vaccinate family members if it had extra shots. His wife was among those vaccinated.
Two weeks ago, Floyd Medical stopped any new vaccinations of nonemployees, although some are still getting their second shot even now.
“Once we heard that the state was insisting on strict adherence two weeks ago we dialed it back,” said Stuenkel.
He said Floyd Medical is now sharing vaccine supplies with the health department and the public. The hospital has vaccinated a total of 6,500 people so far, including its staff and family members.