Front-line health care workers who are not part of hospital systems on Long Island say they are still in the dark about when and how their staff members will be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo yesterday announced that, starting next week, the state expects to begin vaccinating “ambulatory care health care workers” and workers who are administering COVID-19 tests.
But independent physician practices have not been able to find out when, where and how their doctors, nurses and staff will receive the vaccine, according to Dr. Jennifer Shaer, chief medical officer of Allied Pediatrics Group, one of the largest pediatrics practices in New York State.
The state has made Northwell Health responsible for coordinating vaccine distribution on Long Island.
“Northwell is focused on their staff. We are not on their radar at this time,” Schaer said.
Allied Pediatrics has about 150 practitioners — physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners — and about 300 staff members, including nurses. Allied Pediatrics has 32 offices, most located on Long Island, including Peconic Pediatrics in Riverhead.
Allied Pediatrics nurses administer COVID-19 tests to patients every afternoon, Shaer said. In Riverhead alone, they administer an average of about 40 tests daily with drive-up testing outside their offices.
To date, Allied Pediatrics has had 153 instances of employees needing to quarantine due to exposure to someone with COVID, exhibiting symptoms that required them to quarantine or having to quarantine because of travel. Fifty-one employees have tested positive for COVID-19. It has stretched their workforce thin, Shaer said.
Shaer noted that testing services provided by Allied prevents patients from “bombarding the emergency rooms.”
“I imagine that our physicians who have hospital affiliations will eventually get the vaccine through their local hospitals but our nurses are out there every day swabbing patients and we have no way to protect them,” Shaer said.
“We hear of friends and colleagues in much lower-risk positions who are receiving the vaccine and we are feeling helpless with no information,” she said.
In response to questions about when independent health care providers like Allied Pediatrics can expect to receive vaccinations, a spokesperson for Northwell Health said the New York State vaccination program determines the priority of vaccination.
“Since there is currently a limited supply of the vaccine, it will take time to vaccinate everyone who will want to receive it,” Northwell said in an emailed statement.
“Northwell’s objective is to offer the vaccine to the entire Northwell workforce,” the health system said. “We anticipate being able to offer the vaccine to all Northwell team members by the end of February.”
The statement did not address the question of vaccinations for independent physician practices like Allied Pediatrics.
“We’re willing to wait in line,” Shaer said. “We just want to know when.”
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