Erie Shores CEO defends vaccinating administrators, says shots would have been discarded

The CEO of Erie Shores Healthcare is defending a decision to make the COVID-19 vaccine available to her leadership team, saying the the shots needed to be used quickly or they would have been thrown away.

Union president says front-line staff were waiting for shot when PR worker got it

Erie Shores director of communications Arms Bumanlag posted this photo on his Twitter account with the date of his second vaccination date. (Twitter/ArmsBumanlag)

The CEO of Erie Shores Healthcare is defending a decision to make the COVID-19 vaccine available to her leadership team, saying the the shots needed to be used quickly or they would have been thrown away.

In a statement shared on Facebook Monday evening, Kristin Kennedy stressed that the hospital has taken an "all hands on deck approach" that's included administrators with a health-care background being asked to help with patients at points during the pandemic.

All front-line staff members who wanted the vaccine received it first, she added.

"Once our front-line workers were invited to receive their vaccine, we had vaccination appointments available and doses that had to be administered quickly or they would have to be discarded, helping no one," read the statement.

Her comments come after criticisms from the region's medical officer of health about vaccine rollout in area hospitals. He said the priority list for who should receive the shot is being ignored, and an Ontario bioethicist said the situation calls for an investigation.

The controversy emerged after social media posts showing the hospital's director of public relations, Arms Bumanlag, getting the vaccine drew the ire of the president of the union representing the bulk of staff who work there.

Unifor Local 2458 President Tullio DiPonti, who also represents staff  at local long-term care homes, said his members were infuriated to see a PR person get the vaccine ahead of those who work on the front lines.

On Tuesday, DiPonti said he has no issue with administrative staff getting vaccinated, but he disagrees that all front-line workers who wanted the shot had received it.

"My issue is that when this PR person go the vaccine I know for a fact, and I got calls from members of mine at that hospital, that they still hadn't got the vaccine."

Kennedy declined an interview Tuesday, but said she stands by her statement "without reservation."

Bumanlag, has also not responded to questions about being vaccinated.

Erie Shores was following provincial directives when it chose to vaccinate its administrative team, according to Kennedy.

"It would be completely irresponsible to do otherwise, given the front line work our administration is called upon to do," she wrote, saying the hospital serves a large area but has a small workforce.

"Even beyond our administrators who have or will work the front lines to assist, we included those in administration who enter the building regularly and have to interact with other staff and patients and their families of patients.

The province's rules for vaccine priority include healthcare workers in hospitals, long-term care homes and retirement homes. But they say within that category a higher priority should be given to those with "direct and frequent or sustained" care to a high risk population.

DiPonti, whose union does not represent leadership at the hospital, contrasted the idea of administrators helping on the front lines with messages from some of his members who he said are afraid to go to work and risk of being exposed to the virus.

"I never got a call from an administrator, crying, saying that they were afraid to  go to work because they've got to deal with actual patients who are COVID-positive."

Dr. Wajid Ahmed, Windsor's medical officer of health, spoke out last week against hospital leadership being offered and receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, though he didn't point to any specific institutions or individuals.

"I'm disturbed by the fact that, with the limited supply of the vaccine, we are throwing away the prioritization list and are completely ignoring the ethical framework that was provided to all of us," Ahmed said during a media update on Friday.

University of Toronto bioethicist Kerry Bowman described what happened is a "significant violation." adding it risks eroding public trust "enormously."

Social media post created 'confusion': CEO

In her statement, Kennedy said that after front-line workers were invited to receive their vaccine, the hospital had shots and appointments available. Knowing the doses had to be used quickly and not wanting shots to be wasted, it made it available to others in the hospital.

She said the social media post showing Bumanlag being vaccinated came at a time when there was a lot of public interest in vaccination wait times.

"As a result, it has created confusion and a misconception that was not helpful," she wrote, adding the hospital will continue to ensure vaccinations follow the province's plan and regulations.

Bowman argues a contingency plan should have been in place to get surplus shots to other high-priority groups.

For his part, DiPonti said he hopes everyone can get vaccinated — as long as front line workers who want the shot get it first.

"They're the ones out there taking care of our loves ones and making sure they stay safe and stay alive," he said. "It's a life and death situation."