Montefiore New Rochelle under state investigation for vaccinating ineligible public workers, could face sanctions

 The state Health Department is investigating Montefiore New Rochelle Hospital for violating state guidelines by vaccinating New Rochelle school and city employees for COVID-19 before they were eligible.

DOH spokesperson Jonah Bruno said in an email to The Journal News/lohud Friday morning that Montefiore New Rochelle is facing potential sanctions and penalties.

DOH also said that the hospital's vaccine supply will be reallocated to the Westchester County Health Department. There were no further details about that action.

"DOH is investigating this egregious violation of the state’s clearly defined guidelines for the COVID-19 vaccine," his statement said. "As we’ve said repeatedly, current eligibility for the vaccine is limited to health care and hospital workers, seniors living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and people with disabilities living in congregate settings."

Montefiore Hospital in New Rochelle.

Friday's statement followed a late flurry of activity late Thursday as word emerged that the hospital was planning to vaccinate up to 2,400 public employees in New Rochelle. But then Montefiore New Rochelle on Thursday evening abruptly canceled planned vaccinations for hundreds of school district and city staff, soon after The Journal News/lohud posted an article about the hospital's surprising plans.

Some municipal workers and central office staff for the school district were already vaccinated at the hospital Wednesday and Thursday.

The state is now in phase 1A of its vaccination plan, which includes healthcare workers and emergency responders at the highest risk for COVID-19 contact. On Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he would not move up COVID-19 vaccination plans to allow other essential workers, including teachers, access to shots earlier.Montefiore New Rochelle did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday morning. Late Thursday, in a series of emails to The Journal News/lohud, hospital spokesperson Tracy Gurrisi said that no New Rochelle school staff would be vaccinated today or next week, as had been planned.

She did not explain why the hospital had started to vaccinate municipal and school employees or why the vaccinations were canceled."There was a misunderstanding in the communication," she said.

New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson, who passed the word to school district officials Wednesday that the hospital was ready to vaccinate district staff, said in a statement to The Journal News/lohud late Thursday that Montefiore was at fault.

"Although I am satisfied that all parties have been operating in good faith, it's clear that Montefiore misinterpreted the state guidelines. That is now being resolved," he said.

An executive order signed by Cuomo on Dec. 28 said that healthcare providers who knowingly administer the vaccine to ineligible people "may be subject to civil penalties of up to one million dollars per dose administered and/or the revocation of any state-issued license."

Cuomo has been facing pressure to expand eligibility for the vaccine. New York's rollout has been slow and inconsistent, with hundreds of thousands of doses unused after several weeks.

An executive order signed Jan. 4 called on healthcare facilities to administer remaining doses by today or face a possible civil penalty of up to $10,000 and the loss of future doses.

Cuomo has been pushing hospitals to administer a higher percentage of their vaccine doses. On Wednesday, he listed Montefiore New Rochelle as among the "lowest performing" hospitals in the state, with 23% of doses allocated.

New Rochelle school officials were left scrambling for answers late Thursday after being informed by The Journal News/lohud that Montefiore New Rochelle had cancelled vaccinations for their staff. 

Interim Schools Superintendent Alex Marrero already had sent a communication to the community Thursday saying he was "thrilled to announce" that district staff would receive the Moderna vaccination, school by school, starting today and continuing through next Friday at Montefiore.

He sent out a second communication at 9 p.m. Thursday saying that the hospital had suddenly withdrawn its invitation to vaccinate staff.

"This is a disappointing development for us all," he wrote.

New Rochelle was the first coronavirus epicenter in New York state, and a portion of the city remains in a state-imposed yellow zone.

The state Health Department's statement was in response to questions about Montefiore New Rochelle Hospital. DOH did not immediately respond to questions Friday morning about whether the state is investigating other Montefiore hospitals.

The Westchester County Health Department could not be immediately reached for comment.

Municipal and school employees in New Rochelle who already received vaccinations at Montefiore will still need second doses in a month. Asked about whether city employees will receive them, New Rochelle City Manager Chuck Strome said in an email "As far as second doses, we will follow all State guidelines." 

It's been a rough few weeks for Montefiore New Rochelle. Nurses went on strike for two days last month, seeking the reopening of contract negotiations and improved staffing. When the strike ended, the nurses union contended that some members were locked out by the hospital, with Montefiore saying that staffing was delayed due to a lack of patients.

Staff Writer David Propper contributed to this report.

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