Overlake Medical Center & Clinics shut down invite-only online access to schedule appointments with its vaccine clinic after receiving a call from Inslee’s staff, The Seattle Times reported.
Molly Stearns, chief development officer at the hospital, reportedly sent an email last Friday which was addressed: ‘Dear Overlake major donors.’
‘We’re pleased to share that we have 500 new open appointments in the Overlake COVID-19 vaccine clinic, beginning this afternoon and tomorrow and next week,’ the email reads, according to the outlet.
Overlake Medical Center, pictured, has come under fire for allegedly giving preferential treatment for vaccines to rich donors
The Overlake Medical Center was one of the first hospitals in the country to treat COVID-19 after its emergence
Inslee said at news conference on Tuesday that it would be unacceptable for the hospital to give preference to ‘some VIP list.’
‘If in fact they were giving preference to some VIP list, that’s not the way to do it. That is not acceptable for us. We need to give everybody a fair shot at the vaccine,’ he said.
‘We’ve got to maintain public credibility in the system. I’m told that whatever they were doing has stopped, and that’s good news.’
J. Michael Marsh, the president and CEO of the hospital, denied that big givers received preferential treatment in a Wednesday statement and said that email was not exclusively sent to donors.
Gov. Inslee, pictured, ripped the hospital and said everybody should get ‘a fair shot at the vaccine’
Overlake’s Chief Medical Officer David Knoepfler, center, listens to speakers after the death of the first coronavirus patient in the U.S. on February 29, 2020
‘Recently, in an effort to notify people of additional, immediate-term vaccine appointments that had become available, we sent emails to approximately 4,000 members of the Overlake community, including volunteers, retired nurses and physicians, all employees and about 100 donors from our Foundation database,’ Marsh said.
‘All communications made clear that people must show proof of eligibility under current Washington State requirements to ultimately be vaccinated, no matter who they are or how they are affiliated with us.’
However, Marsh did acknowledge the hospital ‘made a mistake by including a subset of our donors and by not adopting a broader outreach strategy to fill these appointments, and we apologize.’
Kemper Freeman Jr., a former State Senator, is a wealthy donor to the hospital
Inslee recently opened vaccine eligibility to anyone ages 65 and over and anyone over 50 who lives in a multi-generational household, causing the medical systems’ scheduling software to crash from the flood of seniors trying to get the vaccine.
Tom DeBord, the hospital’s COO, said the email invite was a sent after the system failed – but admitted in hindsight that it ‘wasn’t the best way’ to fix the problem.
‘We’re under pressure to vaccinate people who are eligible and increase capacity,’ DeBord said.
DeBord told the outlet that the email was ‘never intended to be a donor event’ but he understood why it was being perceived as granting special access to big donors.
‘We thought that was the most efficient way to add slots,’ DeBord said.
The Seattle Times enumerated several problems residents in the state are facing after new swaths of people could schedule appointments for the vaccine.
Jim Ladd, a trustee for the medical center, and Patty Bedient, who has served as its board chair, are both wealthy donors
Some vaccine sites offer a wait list while others do not, and scheduling tools differ among sites, according to the outlet. Some seniors and their caretaker are booking multiple appointments to where they can get one first, jamming the line.
Though it remains unclear which 110 donors received the email, large donors who have previously given more than $100,000 to the hospital include Betty and Kemper Freeman Jr., Ron and Patty Bedient, and Jim and Sherry Ladd.
Kemper Freeman Jr. and his wife have given more than $1.5million and have naming rights for an operating room. He is the active chairman of Kemper Development Company and is a former Republican member of the Washington State House of Representatives from the 48th district.
Businesswoman Patty Bedient, who has served as the board chair of Overlake Medical Center, has previously served as the chief financial officer of Weyerhaeuser Co. on the board for Alaska Air Group, according to BizJournals.com.
She and her husband have donated more than $1million to the hospital, records show.
Sherry Ladd and her husband Jim, a trustee for the hospital, have donated more than $500,000 and have the naming rights for a neonatal intensive care unit.
A donor reached by The Seattle Times said her husband received the email and the two set up an appointment. She told the outlet she assumed the general public also received the notice.
Another who received the link from a donor told the outlet they were able to sign up and receive a vaccination and then then signed up dozens of others within days, mostly seniors of color who were unable to get appointments elsewhere.
According to the hospital, it has administered more than 11,000 vaccines ‘and will soon administer vaccines for over 40,000 community members who have upcoming appointments scheduled through our online system.’
Overlake was one of the first hospitals to treat the novel coronavirus in February 2020 following the nation’s first outbreak in Seattle.