Chicago’s Loretto Hospital gave dozens of COVID-19 vaccines to ineligible people at a nearby church in yet another example of the West Side hospital misusing its allocation of scarce vaccine doses.
WBEZ has learned that Loretto shared more than 100 vaccines with a neighboring Greek Orthodox parish earlier this month, and the church now says 28 recipients of those vaccines were not eligible for their shots yet, according to the church spokesman.
It’s the latest in a long string of incidents involving wrongful vaccinations administered by Loretto.
A top hospital administrator, Dr. Anosh Ahmed, resigned Wednesday after Block Club Chicago revealed that he repeatedly re-directed vaccines from the health care provider on the West Side to people he knows, including workers at a high-end steakhouse, a luxury watch shop and at Chicago’s Trump Tower, where he owns a condo.
And WBEZ has reported on more than a dozen Cook County judges who had a chance to get vaccinated at Loretto before judges were eligible to get their shots.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has temporarily cut off Loretto’s access to the vaccines, which are desperately needed in the Austin neighborhood where the hospital is located. On Thursday, Lighftoot said that Rush Hospital is taking over vaccinations for Loretto.
When asked about the resignation of Ahmed amid the string of misuse allegations, Lightfoot said she has repeatedly asked Loretto Hospital to do a full internal audit of the instances in which they wrongly gave out vaccines, and report every instance to the Chicago Department of Public Health. She said the hospital has not yet done so.
“I’ve been reassured repeatedly that ‘Well, Mayor, we’re doing that,’ but clearly that’s not true. And so now it feels like it’s death by 1000 cuts for them,” she said. “They’ve got to take care of their business. They’ve got to do a fulsome audit, and they’ve got to own responsibility for what has happened. That has not happened yet.”
The hospital is known as a “safety net” provider in the predominantly Black and poor section of the West Side. In December, Lightfoot kicked off the city’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout at Loretto to emphasize official efforts to aid a community hit particularly hard in the coronavirus pandemic.
Loretto gave more than 100 vaccines to the Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, which sits just south of the hospital on Central Avenue, according to a church spokesman. The ornate, Byzantine-style church has stood in the neighborhood for about a century, but most parishioners left for the suburbs decades ago.
The church spokesman told WBEZ most of the doses went to parishioners who were 65 and older or were essential workers and consequently were eligible to get vaccinated at the time.
But the parish said some of the people who were vaccinated did not qualify.
“The church believes that 28 family members of parishioners registered for vaccination were ineligible as part of Phases 1a or 1b. That family members registered for the vaccination is an unintended consequence of a well-intentioned effort to vaccinate the elderly and essential workers of the parish, all of whom were eligible. That said, we regret that people associated with the church registered for vaccinations while outside of city guidelines,” the church said in a statement.
“The church and its administrative diocese, the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago, will continue to encourage its people to get vaccinated as soon as possible while also observing vaccine eligibility requirements.”
A spokesperson for the hospital released a statement Thursday evening saying the church has long been a part of the Loretto community. The hospital presumed the people from the church who were vaccinated were eligible to be so, “which the far majority were.”
“Dozens of children and families from the Austin area are served by the church, and some of its staff resides here, so it is as much a part of this community as anything else,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “At the same time, no one from the community or other eligible persons were ever turned away or lost a spot to get their vaccine as a result and as of today more than 16,000 vaccinations have been distributed onsite at Loretto.”
Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team.