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Adirondack Medical Center praised for speedy vaccination

Vaccine eligibility expanded; Cuomo threatens fines for hospitals slow with shots

Hope in the form of a vaccine came in December. Nurse Michaele Dobson, right, administers the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to nurse Laura Hooker, of Wilmington, at the Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake on Dec. 23. (News photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

SARANAC LAKE — Adirondack Medical Center was highlighted on Monday, Jan. 4 as one of the highest-performing hospitals in the state for distributing vaccines.

Less than two weeks after the hospital received its first shipment of coronavirus vaccines on Dec. 23, about 87% of its vaccine allotment has been administered, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

No one will say how many vials of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been delivered to AMC or its parent organization, the Saranac Lake-based Adirondack Health. As part of New York’s distribution plan, the state required health care facilities to sign a memorandum of understanding that restricts representatives of those facilities from disclosing many pieces of information to the public, including how many vials of the vaccine they have on hand.

“Due to the potential for security concerns, the MOU requires facilities not to disclose quantity on hand or whether they are one of 90 facilities statewide designated to store vaccine,” state Department of Health spokesman Jeffrey Hammond said last month.

Adirondack Health spokesman Matt Scollin attributed the hospital’s success in quickly distributing the vaccines, in part, to its community ties and proactive approach.

Both the Moderna and Pfizer coronavirus vaccines have to be used within a certain time frame from when they arrive at the hospital. When a vial of the Moderna vaccine is opened, for example, all of the doses in that vial have to be administered relatively quickly. There are typically 10 doses per vial, although Cuomo has said many vials hold enough liquid for 11 doses.

To keep the vaccine rollout moving, the hospital has been keeping in contact with organizations outside of the hospital that employ people who are also eligible for vaccinations under the state guidelines, such as first responders and behavioral health professionals, according to Scollin. On days when there were doses of the vaccine available for outside organizations but those scheduled to receive it aren’t able to come in, Adirondack Health contacts the outside organizations and asks if any other people are available to get vaccinated that day.

“There’s no requirement that we do that; we just did it,” Scollin said. “I think that’s certainly helped us achieve this high percentage.”

Scollin also credited the hospital’s success to the work of staff at the hospital’s in-house vaccine clinic, some of whom have been working 12-hour days.

“Our staff doing the vaccinations deserve all of the credit,” he said.

AMC’s vaccine distribution efforts were highlighted during the governor’s daily press briefing on Monday. In terms of the percentage of its vaccine allotment already distributed, AMC ranked fourth in the state behind New York Presbyterian Healthcare System, Oswego Hospital and Richmond University Medical Center.

Cuomo also highlighted the worst-performing hospitals in the state. He said hospitals should be held accountable for the number of vaccines they’ve administered.

Troy’s Samaritan Hospital, with just 13% of its vaccine allotment administered as of Monday, was ranked the worst-performing in the state.

“We want those vaccines in people’s arms,” Cuomo said.

The governor’s mention of these statistics — and his announcement that hospitals could face fines if the vaccines aren’t administered by the end of this week — come as New York faces criticism over the speed and efficiency of its vaccine rollout. Though most county health departments have been prepared to distribute the vaccine for some time — the Essex County Health Department, for instance, has staged many different vaccine clinics before — the state ultimately chose to distribute the first phase of vaccines through hospitals.

Public health experts say the state’s vaccine rollout has to speed up before hospitals become overwhelmed again — or before a new variant of the virus spreads in New York, the New York Times reported on Friday. Cases of the new variant of the coronavirus — which is more contagious than the virus that has infected millions in this country — have been found in Colorado and California, and on Monday, New York announced its first confirmed case of the variant, in Saratoga County.

Little genetic testing has been done to look for the new variant, so it’s impossible to know how widespread it actually is.

Of the more than 774,000 COVID-19 vaccines distributed in New York, 237,000 of them have been administered, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker on Monday suggested that some hospitals lacked a sense of urgency.

On average, New York hospitals have distributed about 46% of the vaccines delivered to them, Cuomo said. Hospitals that don’t use up their existing vaccine stock by the end of this week could face fines of up to $100,000.

The state broadened the categories of people eligible to be vaccinated on Monday, to include all those administering COVID-19 vaccines, including health department staff; ambulatory centers staff; home health care workers and hospice workers; and “congregate setting” staff and residents. Health care workers, first responders, nursing home residents and staff are also eligible to be vaccinated in the first phase of the state’s vaccine rollout.