Westside Black elected officials held a press conference Saturday to voice their support for Loretto Hospital in the wake of controversy over how it has distributed some of its COVID-19 vaccine.
Following last week’s resignation of Dr. Anosh Ahmed, Loretto’s chief operating officer and chief financial officer, city health officials announced they will be withholding first dose vaccines from the hospital while it’s under investigation.
The city’s decision comes after revelations by Block Club Chicago and other media outlets that the hospital had vaccinated ineligible people at Trump Tower, a luxury Gold Coast store, a downtown steakhouse and a suburban church Loretto President and CEO George Miller belongs to. Some local judges and their spouses also were incorrectly vaccinated.
Saturday, several elected officials said they will continue to support the institution that has long been a pillar in Austin for nearly 100 years.
“We do not agree with the mishaps that have happened but agree we need to support Loretto and the Austin community,” Cook County Board Commissioner Dennis Deer said.
Congressman Danny K. Davis reiterated Loretto’s significance to the West Side, noting it’s the community’s largest employer, as well as its status as a “safety net” hospital serving a medically underserved neighborhood.
“Vaccines will still be available to residents,” Davis said, noting his vaccine event at Rising Sun Missionary Baptist Church that was held Sunday.
Ald. Chris Taliferro (29th) emphasized how public trust has to be restored in Loretto.
“The hospital has done extraordinary work,” he said, adding the institution has given out over 16,000 shots, with people of color accounting for 70% of that, and 4,000 shots going directly to Austin residents.
Taliferro said this scandal can’t distract us from the goal of making sure vaccines are available to all West Side residents, especially given how hard COVID-19 has affected Austin and the surrounding area.
Ald. Jason C. Ervin (28th) said just because an organization has made a mistake doesn’t mean that mistake should be highlighted. “We don’t need the flashlight of wrong; we need resources,” he said.
Ervin said the focus should be on Chicago’s death gap: “We need to highlight the healthcare disparities.”
State Rep. La Shawn Ford, who resigned from Loretto’s Board of Trustees last week over the way the hospital has handled vaccine distribution to people not yet eligible, said Loretto must be supported and funded. He noted the hospital helps the houseless community and those struggling with addiction and behavioral health issues.
“As a resident of the Austin community, I could not imagine the community not having the services Loretto provides.”
State Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, who’s served on Loretto’s board for more than two decades and is currently its vice chairwoman, said the hospital has tested over 23,000 people for COVID-19 since the pandemic began last spring. They’ve also begun clinical trials, which Lightford stressed is a significant feat for the hospital.
“Beyond the audit, they need to continue serving the community.”
Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) and state Sen. Mattie Hunter also attended Saturday’s press conference.
State Rep. Camille Lilly, who’s Loretto’s chief external affairs officer, did not attend. Crain’s Chicago recently reported the lawmaker created lists of individuals to be vaccinated outside the normal protocols. Some attending the press conference disputed the report.