Administering the COVID-19 vaccine is big business for companies all over the country. From pharmacies and grocery stores to new healthcare startups, securing a few thousand, if not millions, of doses of the drug via government contracts can help put these companies on the map. It can also help bolster business during these uncertain times. If a patient can get vaccinated at their local pharmacy, there’s a good chance they will buy something along the way.
Two governors are turning heads for awarding multi-billion-dollar vaccination contracts to companies that donated to their political campaigns.
CA Gov. Newsom Chooses Blue Shield for Vaccination Campaign
California Gov. Gavin Newsom chose Blue Shield, the state’s third largest health plan, to oversee the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine back in January, a move that caught many providers by surprise.
The company will use an algorithm to distribute doses of the drug among providers, mass vaccination clinics, and healthcare facilities; however, Gov. Newsom has the final say over the allocation process.
The contract was awarded under emergency authorization, which circumvents the bidding process. Kaiser Permanente, the state’s largest health plan, will also help with some of the rollout.
Gov. Newsom aims to centralize the vaccination process after a clumsy start in December. Long lines, technical issues, and mixed messaging made it difficult for patients to get their shots for weeks. Instead of having each county manage the rollout, everything will go through Blue Shield.
However, some are questioning whether the company is up to the challenge. Blue Shield came under fire for its botched handling of the rollout of the Affordable Care Act in 2014. Regulators have also fined the company for improper coverage cancellations. In 2015, it lost its state tax-exempt status following a controversy over large premium hikes and its hefty financial reserves.
Blue Shield will earn no more than $15 million for its vaccination efforts. The company could earn a great deal of praise and respect if it’s able to distribute the drug quickly and effectively, giving it more influence in the state’s healthcare industry. However, it will also get a lot of blame if things don’t go as planned.
“Our goal is to do all we can to help overcome this pandemic, and it is our commitment to do that work at cost without making a profit from the state,” Blue Shield said in a news release in January.
Critics suspect political lobbying. Records show Blue Shield donated around $1 million to Gov. Newsom’s gubernatorial campaign in 2018. Last year, the company contributed $31,000 to Newsom’s 2022 campaign for governor, as well as $269,000 to his ballot measure committee.
Michael Johnson, now considered one of Blue Shield’s most vocal critics after resigning from the company in 2015, commented, “The reality, I think, is that it reflects the tight relationship Blue Shield has built with Newsom, not its capabilities.”
Only time will tell if Blue Shield is up to the task at hand. The stakes couldn’t be higher as the state faces some of the highest infection rates in the country.
FL Gov. DeSantis Goes All in for Publix Supermarkets
A similar situation is unfolding on the other side of the U.S.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently made the controversial decision to strip Palm Beach County Health Department of the power to administer COVID-19 vaccinations. When the county runs out of supply later this month, all doses will be run through Publix Supermarkets, the state’s largest grocery store chain.
DeSantis said he’s using Palm Beach County as a test site. If all goes well over the next few weeks, Publix will likely become the face of the state’s vaccination program.
However, this decision comes just a few weeks after the company donated $100,000 to his Political Action Committee (PAC), Friends of Ron DeSantis. The Publix PAC also made $25,000 in donations to DeSantis’ committee in November 2019 and January 2020, state records show.
However, DeSantis maintains that the timing is merely coincidence.
“I am absolutely disgusted that the governor of this state has 100 percent taken the ability to vaccinate our residents out of the hands of our public health officials and our medical officials and given that authority to a corporate entity,” said the county commissioner at a meeting earlier this month.
Critics also point out that Palm Beach County has a population of nearly 1.5 million people and some residents live 40 miles away from a Publix.
DeSantis has come under fire for the non-equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine in his state. There have been reports of doses going to wealthy country club members instead of healthcare providers. The decision to make anyone over the age of 65 eligible for the vaccine has also caused headaches as younger seniors skip ahead of those in their 80s and 90s, many of whom have mobility issues.
In one county where over 40% of the residents are in poverty, just 2% have been vaccinated. Studies also show that just 4.9% of the state’s black population has gotten a shot, even though black people make up 16.9% of the population.
Congresswoman Omari Hardy, who represents part of Palm Beach County, responded to the announcement on Twitter: “There are entire communities that don’t have a Publix, communities like the Glades, which is majority black, rural, and economically depressed. Other black communities with Publixes, like Riviera Beach in my district, don’t have pharmacies at them. So, no vaccines there either.”
She added, “The decision to make Publix the sole vaccine distributor in Palm Beach County means that black people will continue to struggle to gain access to this vaccine. He has to know this. This is more evidence DeSantis doesn’t care one bit about black people. Not one bit.”
It’s been nearly a year and a half since the death of Elijah McClain. The 23-year-old massage therapist died in August 2019 after a violent encounter with the police in Aurora, Colorado. A 157-page report from an independent investigation commission was released on Monday. It includes two different accounts of what happened the day McClain died, while faulting the officers who arrested him and the department’s overall lack of accountability.
What Happened to Elijah McClain?
Records show that McClain had suffered a heart attack just days before his encounter with the police in Aurora, CO. Someone called 9-1-1 on August 24th, 2019, saying that someone in the area looked “sketchy”. They also claimed that McClain was wearing a ski mask and waving his arms around.
Three police officers quickly responded to the call. The report includes one of the officer’s statements at the time, who described the encounter as a “violent struggle.”
However, body camera footage from that night tells a different story.
“The limited video, and the audio from the body-worn cameras, reveal Mr. McClain surrounded by officers, all larger than he, crying out in pain, apologizing, explaining himself, and pleading with the officers,” the report found.
At one point, McClain can be heard saying, “Forgive me…you all are phenomenal, you are beautiful.” He added, “I’m an introvert, please respect the boundaries that I am speaking.”
Yet, the officers didn’t let up.
The report, which was commissioned by the city of Aurora, clearly states that the cops had no legal basis to stop, frisk, or use a chokehold on McClain, who seems to have been just minding his own business at the time of the arrest. He was never suspected of a crime.
Paramedics arrived on the scene and gave McClain a syringe full of ketamine, an anesthetic, which put him into cardiac arrest. He was rushed to a hospital where he later died after being taken off life support.
Elijah’s mother Sheeneen said after the release of the report:
“Aurora is responsible for Elijah’s tragic death by virtue of its employees’ unlawful and unconscionable actions. At every step of the way – from their initial stop of Elijah through the involuntary injection of an extremely dangerous drug for no medical reason – Aurora officials indisputably violated Mr. McClain’s constitutional rights.”
She also points out that McClain would wear the ski mask because he was anemic and sensitive to the cold.
McClain’s father, LaWayne Mosley, said: “This report confirms what we have been saying from the start. The Aurora police and medics who murdered my son must be held accountable.”
How Can We Prevent This from Happening Again?
The investigators who authored the report said their main focus was to prevent incidents like this from happening again rather than assign blame.
The report says the Aurora Police Department needs to conduct several interviews with the arresting officers and paramedics to learn more about the incident. The report also recommends the department review how its officers are trained to stop, frisk, and arrest people, and urges the city to consider overhauling how it reviews incidents.
It adds: “The speed at which these officers acted to take Mr. McClain into custody, their apparent failure to assess whether there was reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed, and the unity with which the three officers acted suggest several potential training or supervision weaknesses.”
The report also calls the original police probe following the incident “flawed.” The Attorney’s Office used the results of this “flawed” investigation to clear the arresting officers of all charges. To this day, none of the arresting officers have lost their jobs and no subsequent charges have been filed.
The report criticizes the way the officers and paramedics responded to the scene, including the fact that the arresting officers used force on McClain “within seconds of exiting their cars”, and that they sustained that force “over an extended time period, including two attempted carotid holds.”
Furthermore, the report found that the paramedics who administered ketamine did so ‘without conducting anything more than a brief visual observation’, after wasting “almost seven minutes after arriving to interact with Mr. McClain.”
The report notes that EMS’ “first contact was to administer the sedative ketamine”.
In conclusion, bias may have had a role to play. The report added, “research indicates that factors such as increased perception of threat, perception of extraordinary strength, perception of higher pain tolerance, and misconceptions of age and size can be indicative of bias.”
Our heart goes out to the McClain family.
There’s a new scandal taking the media by storm. Texas senator Ted Cruz caused an uproar late last week when he was seen flying to Cancun, Mexico with his family as millions of Texans were left without heat and power in the middle of a snowstorm. Dangerously low temperatures and freezing pipes pummeled the state’s infrastructure, leading to rolling power outages. Residents were trapped inside their homes, forced to burn furniture in fireplaces to stay warm.
While out-of-state representatives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and unelected officials like Beto O’Rourke were helping people on the ground, Cruz took a lot of heat for his decision to get out of town during a public health crisis. He quickly changed plans and rebooked a return ticket back to the U.S. A day later, he was seen outside handing off water to Texans affected by the storm. The move was quickly labeled as a PR stunt, while health experts shamed Cruz for not quarantining after his flight.
The storm left at least 58 dead in the state of Texas alone. Many residents and local officials were simply caught off guard in a state that’s known for its moderate climate.
We decided to check in with our community of nurses on our Facebook Page “Funny Nurses” to see how healthcare providers were reacting to the scandal. Here’s what they had to say:
“I want to know what people actually think he could do about the situation. Should he have canceled his plans just to freeze with the rest of us? What skills in his wheelhouse would have changed a thing? Nothing. If I could afford it, I would have had my happy ass in Cancun too.”
“It still blows my mind that Texans don’t use insulation in their houses. I understand it rarely gets cold, but insulation also keeps your house cool in the summer. Just seems really odd to me.”
“Really?!? I think it was fine. What’s he going to do? Summon the weather to change? Fix the power equipment himself? Milk the cows for people to have milk? Bake bread? Good for him, he was able to get away from this weather!!!”
“People were told that if you could leave, to leave. It’s not like he has any part in the emergency response or power grid.”
“Lame!!! He is about to get the Stacey Abram Special. Beto was busting ass this week.”
Stacey Abrams recently launched a massive effort to rally Democratic voters in Georgia, handing the state’s two Senate seats to Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossof. Beto O’Rourke recently ran a close campaign against Ted Cruz and may be looking for a rematch in the years to come.
Neilson went on to say:
“And nearly all of the responses on this page show the lack of humanity people have left. He is an elected leader for our state. He pretty much showed what he would have done as POTUS. Done like Trump…nothing. He needs to just retire himself to a law office and skulk out of the public eye.”
“I am not American but really an elected official should be setting a good example and NOT travelling internationally for vacation. Highly selfish and irresponsible.”
Judy Hart Gullen:
“He is a complete asshole. Not only did he leave, he threw his daughters under the bus. Blaming them because he said they were freezing. Guess what? Most of us Texans were and still are. I have no power or water! I’ve been blessed enough to be with a sibling who said come over. Took my dog and I in for the duration.”
“So many people keep saying that Ted Cruz couldn’t have done anything. Then what the heck is the point of having him represent your state? If he is that useless, get him out. Beto and AOC both are not elected officials in your state yet have done more than he has. Stop with the argument that he couldn’t do anything because you’re just cementing the point of how useless he is. His own party doesn’t even like him in Congress. Maybe voters (from Texas) should reconsider why you voted for him. 🤷🏼♀️”
“People really said there was nothing he could do. People are in denial as a mf! His job is literally TEXAS and he walked out during a state of emergency. Since this is a nursing page, imagine yourself walking out from a code blue on your pt….”
Paula Smith Barton:
“Texans took care of themselves and their neighbors who needed help. Cruz was gone a day, and any help he could give could be done via smart phone. Not every event/catastrophe is a political story, I’ve read story after story of people helping each other, not relying on the government to solve their problem. That’s what our country is about.”
Senator Cruz’s actions seem to have divided a lot of folks in Texas. Some don’t mind that he left, while others are adamant about holding his feet to the fire.
Regardless of how you feel about the scandal, we hope you’re safe and warm during this difficult time.
Last year was a challenge unlike any other, drawing on every single person to adjust the way they work, the way they live, and the way they care for their health. There wasn’t one part of 2020 that didn’t rely on teamwork, whether it was from family, colleagues, or a stranger in the street staying six feet away from you.
Healthcare workers have been pushed to their limits during the pandemic, and so have small businesses. It’s estimated that 50% of restaurants that have been forced to close won’t reopen, and healthcare retailers are no different. In step: Allura. Cherokee Uniforms’ latest line has been engineered from the ground up, taking decades of performance and teamwork, launching it into a new line of scrubs. The line was developed to celebrate those who make up great teams, from the HCW to the small business owners.
That’s where there’s something special about the line; it’s being sold exclusively at small business retailers who have brick and mortar locations across the country, and who have been most affected by the pandemic. The move will help boost sales by selling an exclusive line that you can’t find anywhere else.
And sell they should. The line is impressive, to say the least. Cherokee impressively knows how to keep it inclusive, and doesn’t switch up its traditional sizing. In fact, there’s features in Allura that haven’t been cross-used in a scrubs line before. From XXS to 5XL, every body type is included, and the brand embodied that in its advertising campaign. Instead of mannequin-style models, real people, real shapes, and real stories were used to promote the line, which will be promoted across social media in the coming months.
But in a world where scrubs have become a fashion statement, how do they feel? One could believe it’s hard to keep quality fabrics for some of the lowest prices in the market; but again, the brand performs. Four-way stretch spandex is included in the fabric and gives the necessary pull you need. The feel is soft, comfortable, and fitted without sticking to your skin.
Elastic cuffs on the jackets and the bottoms with drawstring waistbands – it gives a fashionable clean statement; again, with function coming first. The main function being the stretch. The elevated 10% spandex that’s weaved into the fabric allows you to move and make good on the many pockets and other functions.
It’s worth noting that Cherokee has been in the game for over 25 years. Born to help healthcare professionals do what they need to do: save lives, albeit while remaining comfortable. They make sure frontline workers’ needs are ingrained in the very fabrics that create its scrubs. Dramatic? Maybe, but then again, so is saving lives.
Allura, you may just be everything we’ve ever wanted in a scrub line: every feature we could have possibly wanted and a genius way of helping small businesses make some extra cash.
Throughout the pandemic, health officials have been urging individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 to donate their blood plasma, which can be used to treat patients suffering from the disease. Preliminary research shows that patients with (or at risk of) severe COVID-19 who receive convalescent plasma within three days of diagnosis are less likely to die than patients who receive convalescent plasma later in their illness.
Despite the need for blood plasma, many men who identify as gay or bisexual who have recovered from COVID-19 are waking up to the fact that they still can’t donate blood.
The policy is a relic from the 1980s when gay men were banned from donating blood to reduce the spread of HIV. The government recently rescinded the policy, but recent reporting shows that many facilities still aren’t up to speed.
The Latest Blood Donation Guidelines
In 1985 at the height of the AIDS crisis, the FDA ruled that all men who had sex with other men after 1977 couldn’t donate to make sure the nation’s blood supply didn’t contain HIV.
However, these guidelines have come a long way in recent years. The restrictions changed in 2015 to sex with other men within the last 12 months. Outcry from the LGBTQ+ community and elected officials pushed the FDA to change the policy again in April of last year to sex within the last three months. The change also increased the number of donors at a time when donations were down across the country due to the emerging pandemic.
Advocates say that gay men should be allowed to donate blood. Technology has made it easier for providers to detect HIV. New drugs like PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) have also reduced the spread of HIV among the gay and bisexual community.
The Need for Blood Plasma During the Pandemic
Despite these changes, recent reporting shows that many of the nation’s blood drives and donation centers have yet to implement the new policy.
In addition to donated blood, providers also need the plasma from people who have recovered from the coronavirus. However, a person must meet certain criteria in order to donate their plasma.
According to the latest guidelines:
“They have to have tested positive for COVID-19, recovered, have no symptoms for 14 days, currently test negative for COVID-19, and have high enough antibody levels in their plasma. A donor and patient must also have compatible blood types. Once plasma is donated, it is screened for other infectious diseases, such as HIV. Each donor produces enough plasma to treat one to three patients. Donating plasma should not weaken the donor’s immune system, nor make the donor more susceptible to getting reinfected with the virus.”
Lukus Estok told NBC News last year that he wasn’t allowed to donate blood plasma after recovering from the coronavirus. He said he was turned away from a clinic in New York after he told them he was gay. “I was shocked,” said Estok, 36. “I’ve been through a month of hell with this virus. I’m finally recovered. I’ve been through a screening process that tells me I’m a potential candidate to help somebody else and now I’m being told I can’t.”
He’s not alone.
Both the Red Cross and America’s Blood Centers, which represent over 800 blood drives across the U.S., have confirmed that they haven’t been able to take blood from gay men despite the new regulations. Many centers haven’t updated their computer systems for the new rule to take effect. Others say they haven’t had a chance to train their staff on the new policy.
Another problem, a trade group that represents nearly all the U.S. blood banks, says it hasn’t gotten approval for an important document from the FDA.
Estok describes how he felt after being turned away. “I was not expecting the reaction I got,” he said. “It was like I was radioactive. I was so upset. I genuinely want to be able to contribute to help somebody and right now they’re basically putting out messages that they need blood that there’s shortage of blood. But at the end of it, they sent me home.”
Brandon Gunther, who recovered from COVID-19 last year, had a similar experience in Sacramento, CA after trying to donate his blood plasma.
“I hadn’t had sex in the past three months so figured I was good to go,” said Gunther. “But the computer rejected my eligibility to donate and I was told ‘you have to remain abstinent from male-to-male sex for at least one year to be eligible to donate.'”
Many facilities are in the process of updating their guidelines to include the new policy, but members of the LGBTQ+ community say the new rules still feel onerous. Gay and bisexual men looking to donate must abstain from contact with their same-sex partner for three months, which doesn’t apply to straight people.
Some of the country’s biggest hospitals and medical centers will lose Medicare funding due to high rates of infection and preventable patient complications, according to the federal government. The facilities are being cited for their lack of safety based on data collected between 2017 and 2019.
The U.S. healthcare system had a problem with infectious disease before the coronavirus was even on our radar, and 500,000 Americans have already died from COVID-19. As we mark this grim milestone, healthcare officials are reckoning with their facilities’ lack of infection control.
What do the Penalties Mean?
The penalties will affect 774 healthcare facilities all over the country, which will now lose 1% of their Medicare funding over the next 12 months. The penalties were enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act, which set them up as a way of motivating hospitals to better protect patients from infection and preventable health complications. These complications increase the cost of care, prolong hospitalization, and even kill patients.
According to the CDC, on any given day, one in 31 hospital patients will develop an infection or complication during their stay. “Although significant progress has been made in preventing some healthcare-associated infection types, there is much more work to be done,” the agency says.
The government created the Hospital-Acquired Condition Reduction Program seven years ago to make sure hospitals were protecting their patients from infection and complications. Medicare also looks at hospital readmission rates when determining reimbursements to avoid paying for substandard care. However, since its founding, healthcare administrators argue that the government is levying penalties arbitrarily. The current law states that the government must penalize the top 25% with the highest rates of infection and patient complications.
HHS looks at the number of recorded infections, blood clots, sepsis cases, bedsores, hip fractures, and other complications that occur in hospitals to see if they could’ve been prevented. The penalty is then based on how much Medicare pays the hospital during the fiscal year.
However, some facilities may get penalized even if they have improved substantially compared to the year before, while others may escape detection if they stay out of the top 25%. Akin Demehin, director of policy at the American Hospital Association, refers to the penalties as “a game of chance” based on “badly flawed” measures.
Major facilities may also be penalized for being more thorough with their reporting. The more complications they find, the more federal funding they could lose.
Dr. Karl Bilimoria, vice president for quality at Northwestern Medicine, whose hospital is being penalized this year, said, “The all-or-none penalty is unlike any other in Medicare’s programs.” He said Northwestern takes the penalty seriously because of the amount of money at stake, and also says, “But, at the same time, we know that we will have some trouble with some of the measures because we do a really good job identifying complications”.
Some of the most prestigious facilities in the country are being hit with penalties, including Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles; UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco; Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Tufts Medical Center in Boston; NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in New York; UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside in Pittsburgh; and Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
In total, 2,430 hospitals will not be penalized under these guidelines. Another 2,057 were automatically excluded because they serve children, veterans, or psychiatric patients, or have been designated a “critical access hospital,” which means it’s one of the only facilities in the area.
Recent reporting from the Kaiser Health Network shows that the penalties are being levied unevenly across the country. Half of Rhode Island’s hospitals were penalized, as well as 30% of Nevada’s. Meanwhile, all the hospitals in Delaware escaped punishment. The government also excludes Maryland because it pays them through a different reimbursement system.
Losing Funding in the Middle of a Pandemic
For many hospitals are medical facilities, the timing of these penalties couldn’t be worse. Many companies are hurting due to the ongoing pandemic. Some areas have had to cancel elective procedures so staff can ration care and focus on treating those suffering from COVID-19.
According to the American Hospital Association, the pandemic led to a $320 billion decline in hospital revenues during 2020. A recent survey shows that two-thirds of hospital executives said they expect a 15% shortfall in annual revenues, with almost one-fifth of executives projecting a shortfall of 30% or more.
These cuts could worsen the revenue system for many facilities across the country. They may have to scale back resources, services, or staff to keep their operating expenses as low as possible.
Room for Improvement
As backlash over the penalties continues to grow, the government created The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission to assess whether the penalties were being levied fairly.
In a 2019 report, the commission found that “it is important to drive quality improvement by tying infection rates to payment.” However, it also found that the government shouldn’t use a “tournament” model when issuing fines and penalties. This system compares one facility to another instead of creating fixed targets for reducing infection and patient complications.
A group of the leading black healthcare organizations in the country is coming together to support the black community during this difficult time.
It’s well-known that African Americans have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Systemic racism, implicit bias among providers, lack of access to care, poor nutrition, distrust of the medical system, and misinformation have all had a role to play.
That’s why these groups are launching the “Love Letter to Black America” campaign. Authored by leaders from the community, it’s designed to create a discussion within the black community, including its response to COVID-19.
Reaching Out During These Unprecedented Times
The letter, which comes in the form of a YouTube video, was created by America’s Black Doctors and Nurses, in collaboration with the nation’s historically black medical schools, the National Medical Association, National Black Nurses Association, and the National Urban League.
The voices featured in the video talk about what it means to be a black doctor or nurse in the era of COVID-19. These providers have a larger calling that goes beyond showing up for work. They are here to protect and advocate for the health of black people everywhere.
The campaign will feature trustworthy information regarding health, nutrition, and COVID-19 created by and for black Americans.
These groups are also using the hashtag #Iloveus to spread the word on social media.
Providers are asking their colleagues, contacts, and professional networks to share this video as much as possible online. They are hoping these kinds of messages end up going viral to help stop the spread of misinformation online.
What Is the Black Coalition Against COVID-19?
The campaign is also supported by the Black Coalition Against COVID-19, a D.C. group that’s committed to helping black Americans get through the pandemic by encouraging them to get vaccinated and protect themselves from the spread of disease.
Dr. Reed Tuckson, one of the providers behind the Black Coalition Against COVID-19 and former health commissioner of D.C., says he’s been fighting distrust in the black community for decades, going back to when he oversaw the city’s response to the HIV pandemic during the 1980s.
“There we found that it was extremely difficult to break through the legacy of the Tuskegee syphilis experience and other significant insults that made it very difficult to be able to push our message through around the appropriate things to do. It is amazing to me now, that in 2020, so many years later, the same issues are rearing their head,” he said during an interview with NPR.
Tuckson says it’s important to have African Americans in leadership roles in science and medicine, so black Americans have someone they know they can trust.
He points to Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, an immunologist who’s been studying the efficacy of the vaccines who also happens to be black, as well as Dr. Gary H. Gibbons, M.D., the Director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) at the National Institute of Health.
“So, we are trying to absolutely let our community understand that we are inside of the tent watching everything very carefully, protecting their interests and assuring them that only the best science is being applied to the decisions that will affect their life,” he added.
That’s why he argues campaigns like the “Love Letter to Black America” are so important, so black Americans can hear from people that look and sound like them.
He encourages other providers to see their patients as complete human beings instead of just a sickness or problem waiting to be solved or cured:
“I was well trained as a physician, and one of the things that was a hallmark of my training was to learn to listen to the patient and connect with the patient, to their history, their culture, their ideas, their values, their spirituality – all of the elements that make them a unique and vital human being. And so, it is imperative that we know this history, that all health professionals understand what your patient is bringing to the clinical arena. Health professionals have to understand how and why people make decisions if we’re going to help people to make the most appropriate decisions for them.”
Show your support for the “Love Letter to Black America” campaign by sharing it online.
Dr. Hasan Gokal says he faced an impossible situation in late December when 10 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine started to expire. A vial had already been opened, leaving him just six hours to find eligible patients who still needed their shot.
He started calling friends and acquaintances with preexisting medical conditions in the neighborhood, inviting them to his home in Sugar Land, TX to get vaccinated, including several elderly people, a mother who uses a ventilator, and his wife, who has a pulmonary disease that leaves her short of breath.
By the end of the night, he managed to give away every last dose before they expired, but he never expected what would happen next.
Fired for “Stealing” Vaccines
Dr. Gokal says he was later fired from his government job and charged with stealing 10 doses of the vaccine worth a total of $135. His name and mugshot quickly spread around the internet, making him a virtual pariah in the medical community.
“It was my world coming down. To have everything collapse on you. God, it was the lowest moment in my life,” Dr. Gokal told The New York Times.
The story became an inflection point as facilities, states, and providers struggled with the ethical distribution of the drug. Supply shortages, malfunctioning freezers, and transportation issues have forced providers into difficult situations as they try to hand out the drug before it goes to waste. That usually means administering it to people who wouldn’t normally be eligible under the latest regulations, including people who happen to be in the right place at the right time.
As for Dr. Gokal, a judge dismissed the charges against him late last month, but the district attorney vowed to present the case to a grand jury. His defense team says he was acting responsibly – if not heroically – by administering the drug before it expired. But prosecutors portray him as an unethical provider who took advantage of the situation by inoculating his wife.
“Everybody was looking at this guy and saying, ‘I got my mother waiting for a vaccine, my grandfather waiting for a vaccine,’” the lawyer, Paul Doyle, said. “They were thinking, ‘This guy is a villain.’”
What Went Wrong?
Dr. Gokal immigrated from Pakistan as a child. After earning his medical degree, he worked in several hospitals around New York before relocating to rural Texas in 2009. Before the pandemic, he split his time between two different hospitals. With his wife’s disease, he stayed in a hotel room to avoid infecting his family. In April, he became the medical director for the Harris County Public Health department’s COVID-19 response team. Even though he took a pay cut, he was anxious to get out of the ER to limit his exposure to the virus.
In December, he took part in a conference call with health officials as they went over the latest vaccination guidelines. He says he was instructed to give the shot to healthcare workers, residents of long-term care facilities, and people over the age of 65 with existing medical conditions.
But after that, he said, the message was: “Just put it in people’s arms. We don’t want any doses to go to waste. Period.”
On December 29th, he attended one of the area’s first vaccination events, where 250 doses were given out to healthcare workers. At around 6:45 PM local time, a nurse punctured a new vial of the vaccine, but by that point, the event was winding down.
Once the seal was broken, they had just six hours to find 10 eligible patients.
Dr. Gokal started by asking 20 people already in the room, but they either refused the shot or had already been vaccinated. When that didn’t work, he called the Harris County Public Health department to alert them of his plans to find 10 additional people to vaccinate. He says they responded with a simple “OK”, giving him the all-clear.
With precious minutes racing by, he started calling local providers to see if they had eligible patients who needed a shot, but no one was available. He considered returning the vial to the health department, but everyone had already gone home for the day.
Desperate for a solution, he started calling contacts in his cell phone, asking them if they have older relatives or knew anyone who qualified for a shot.
By the time he got home, a woman in her 70s was already waiting in his driveway.
As for the people he vaccinated, he says it was “no one I was really intimately familiar with,” Dr. Gokal said. “I wasn’t that close to anyone.”
He also started driving to the houses of eligible patients to administer the drug. When he returned home to give out the last few shots, someone called to cancel at the last minute, but it was too late: the drug was about to expire.
Without an alternative, Dr. Gokal turned to his wife and said, “I didn’t intend to give this to you, but in a half-hour, I’m going to have to dump this down the toilet. It’s as simple as that.”
The next day, he submitted paperwork to his colleagues on the people he vaccinated and why. That’s when he was fired from his position.
Health officials said Dr. Gokal should’ve either returned the unused doses or thrown them away. They also questioned the group of people he chose to vaccinate. “Are you suggesting that there were too many Indian names in that group?” Dr. Gokal said he was asked. “Exactly,” he says he was told.
Two weeks later, cameras and microphones started showing up at his house. That’s how he found out he was being charged with stealing 10 doses of the vaccine.
He says the district attorney’s office never called to ask him for his side of the story.
However, a judge threw out the charges, ruling that, “In the number of words usually taken to describe an allegation of retail shoplifting, the State attempts, for the first time, to criminalize a doctor’s documented administration of vaccine doses during a public health emergency. The Court emphatically rejects this attempted imposition of the criminal law on the professional decisions of a physician.”
The Texas Medical Association and the Harris County Medical Society issued statements in support of Dr. Gokal. “It is difficult to understand any justification for charging any well-intentioned physician in this situation with a criminal offense,” the statement said.
Without his job, he spends his time volunteering at local health clinics, but he says his reputation will never be the same again.
For the last 50 years, the National Black Nurses Association (NBNA) has been advocating for the rights of black nurses and healthcare providers all over the country. Born out of the Civil Rights Era and the fight for equality, the NBNA brought providers together as they advocated for their place in the healthcare community. Advancing the rights and opportunities for black nurses was also important for advancing the well-being of the black community as a whole by making sure people of color had access to essential healthcare services.
At Scrubs Mag, we’re honored to be a partner with the NBNA. Learn more about the history of this organization and how it continues to stand up for communities of color.
The Founding of the NBNA
During the 1960s and 70s, black Americans came together to address systemic inequalities across the country, including employment rights, access to healthcare and higher education, and criminal justice reform – issues that the black community is still struggling with today. Notable organizations such as the NAACP and the National Urban League were at the forefront of the Civil Rights Era.
As these issues played out on the national stage and streets across the country, black nurses were organizing on the West Coast.
It all started when two black nurses’ organizations were formed in the late 1960s, including the Council of Black Nurses, Los Angeles, founded by Betty Smith Williams and Barbara Johnson in 1968, and the Bay Area Black Nurses Association, founded by Florence A. Stroud and Carlessia Hussein in San Francisco in 1969. In 1970, the organizations came together to hold the first statewide conference for black nurses, attracting black professionals from virtually every corner of the country.
Their mission was to unite black providers under a single banner, which gave them more influence in the healthcare industry. They sought to improve healthcare services for black Americans and to include black people in nursing education and nursing leadership positions.
For years, black providers weren’t allowed to join the American Nurses Association (ANA) and were instead relegated to the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN), which was dissolved in the 1950s. Twenty years later, black nurses still had a limited presence in the ANA. As for the black providers who did make it into the ANA, they felt as if their voices weren’t being heard in the largely white organization.
At the 47th Convention of the ANA in Miami, FL in 1970, black nurses “caucused” to address the lack of representation in the organization.
A year later, 18 black nurses met at the home of Dr. Mary Harper, in Cleveland, Ohio, where they voted unanimously to establish the National Black Nurses Association in 1971. It marked a significant milestone in the advancement of black providers.
The NBNA presented an alternative to the ANA: a place where black nurses could come together to work towards their goals in an atmosphere of support and encouragement.
The founders included Dr. Lauranne Sams, Betty Jo Davidson, Gertrude Baker, Barbara Garner, Dr. Mary Harper, Mattiedna Kelly, Phyllis Jenkins, Florrie Jefferson, Judy Jourdain, Geneva Norman, Betty Smith Williams, Etherlrine Shaw, Anita Small, Doris A. Wilson, and Gloria Rookard.
Keeping the Coalition Together
When the NBNA first came together, one of the first challenges was making sure its members could stay in touch, so they could keep the discussion going. The first caucus led to the creation of the Steering Committee, led by Dr. Lauranne Sams, who was tasked with identifying ways to keep providers in the loop after they headed home.
On February 28, 1972, Dr. Sams sent letters to friends and colleagues alerting them of the newly formed National Black Nurses Association as well as the organization’s Statement of Philosophy, Purposes and Objectives:
- Define and determine nursing care for black consumers for optimum quality of care acting as their advocates.
- Act as a change agent in restructuring existing institutions and/or helping to establish institutions to suit our needs.
- Serve as the national nursing body to influence legislation and policies that affect black people and work cooperatively and collaboratively with other health workers to this end.
- Conduct, analyze and publish research to increase the body of knowledge about health care and the health needs of blacks.
- Compile and maintain a national Directory of Black Nurses to assist with the dissemination of information regarding black nurses and nursing on national and local levels by the use of all media.
- Set standards and guidelines for the quality education of black nurses on all levels by providing consultation to nursing faculties and by monitoring for proper utilization and placement of black nurses.
- Recruit, counsel and assist black persons interested in nursing to insure a constant procession of blacks in the field.
- Be the vehicle for unification of black nurses of varied age groups, educational levels, and geographic locations to ensure continuity and flow of our common heritage.
- Collaborate with other black groups to compile archives relevant to the historical, current, and future activities of black nurses.
- Provide the impetus and means for black nurses to write and publish on an individual or collaborative basis.
To include as many black providers as possible to maximize their influence on the nursing industry, they opened the organization up to registered nurses, licensed vocational/practical nurses, and nursing students. To this day, the organization believes that any nurse, regardless of ethnicity, who envisions health equity for all Americans, can belong to the NBNA.
Members also planned a symposium for the black nurses attending the ANA Convention in Detroit, MI in May 1972. Among the speakers was Congressman Charles C. Diggs, Jr. of Michigan, the first Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. He addressed the crowd with a clear message: “We must have common goals and purposes which should be the reason for organized black nurses, because the white agenda has failed in terms of the black perspective.”
During the symposia, members of the newly formed New York Black Nurses Association, talked about how the first caucus inspired them to form their own coalition of black providers. Members pointed out that “Pandas from China were better housed, fed and cared for than Black Americans; and that the USA passes out moon rocks instead of bread.”
Over the years, the group continued to grow in influence. The Steering Committee went on to set up regional offices all over the country, giving black providers the chance to make their voices heard.
With over 200,000 members and 115 chapters all over the country, the NBNA remains a powerful force in the healthcare community, uniting black providers in the name of a common goal.
A brutal winter storm continues to dominate much of the U.S. from New England to Texas, leaving millions of people without power in Texas, Kentucky, and Louisiana. Faced with a rare weather occurrence, many southern states weren’t prepared for the ice and snow, bringing daily life to a halt.
Many people all over the country are currently focused on keeping warm and staying alive. There have been reports of families burning their possessions in the fireplace due to a lack of power and heat in their homes. Patients on ventilators and breathing machines were left without power, leaving few alternatives.
At least 25 people have died across the country as a result of the storm. Officials say the outages will likely last through the day and beyond.
How Residents Are Coping
Lower income individuals and neighborhoods with houses that lack insulation are struggling to survive the cold. The Texas energy system has been crippled by the storm, and officials don’t have enough electricity to power the millions of homes connected to the grid. Many people all over the country who were hunkering down during the storm were already dealing with poverty and food insecurity due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Last night in San Antonio, the downtown skyline lit up as the power went back online in the city’s skyscrapers and luxury condos, while surrounding neighborhoods were left in the dark.
At a migrant camp along the border, individuals and families were spotted wrapping themselves in blankets as they huddled around a fire. Community organizers are doing their best to reach out to the homeless as the risk of frostbite and hypothermia increases.
For almost everyone affected by the storm, it was the last straw after a devastating year. The coronavirus has already killed over 40,000 people in Texas.
“To go through all of that and then also to have stuff like this happen, it’s like, ‘One more historical event, and I’m going to develop PTSD,’” said Brianna Blake, 31, a mother of two sons. “I cannot do this.”
She says her family tried to stock up food, water, and gas before the storm set in, but gas stations, grocery stores, and pharmacies quickly ran out of essentials.
Her family put sleeping bags and futon mattresses in front of the fireplace. As the fire started to die down, she pulled a piece of artwork off the wall and threw it in the fire to keep it going.
Blake says she experienced the “most helpless feeling as a mom” as she watched her young sons sleep, “blissfully unaware” of what their parents were doing to keep them warm.
“The bare minimum is providing them with shelter and warmth and food — that’s our bare minimum job” as parents, she said. “It was just heartbreaking to know that…these boys were going…to wake up freezing, that they were going to wake up cold, I would have broken every belonging that belonged to me to prevent that from happening.”
Officials are also worried about an uptick in carbon monoxide poisoning. A woman and her child passed away after using a car to generate heat.
“Initial indications are that [the] car was running in the attached garage to create heat as the power is out. Cars, grills and generators should not be used in or near a building,” the Houston Police Department said in a statement.
Officials have also confirmed that the National Guard and thousands of state troopers are checking in on families who are struggling after the storm. In some areas, temperatures haven’t been this low in 100 years, which caused pipes to freeze and explode.
Hospitals Facing Unprecedented Challenges
Healthcare facilities are trying to keep the lights on amid rolling blackouts as the power comes on and off unexpectedly. A generator failed at a hospital in Harris County, Texas, forcing providers to race to administer 8,430 doses of the coronavirus vaccine.
“We got to work under the mission to avoid losing those vaccines with the loss of power, and we quickly put together a plan to allocate and to salvage them. We were looking for places where there were already large numbers of people,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said during a press conference.
With severe weather, providers needed to bring the drug to areas where patients wouldn’t have to travel during the storm.
Of the 8,430 vaccines, county health officials were able to distribute 5,410 doses across five locations. 3,000 went to the Harris County Jail, 1,000 to Houston Methodist Hospital, 810 to Rice University, and 600 to Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital and Ben Taub Hospital, Hidalgo said.
The rest of the doses were put in storage after officials said they could be refrigerated and used later that day.
The winter storm continues to disrupt lives all over the nation. More ice and snow are expected today and tomorrow.