Chicago mayor slams CPS vaccine provider Innovative Express Care for misallocation of COVID-19 shots

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago city leaders slammed health care provider Innovative Express Care for what it called "deceptive practices" in how it was using COVID-19 vaccines meant for CPS employees.

A misallocation of 6,000 doses that led the Department of Public Health to cut off vaccine to Innovative Express Care.

While the company CEO blamed it on a miscommunication, Mayor Lori Lightfoot called that that claim absolutely false Wednesday.

"They repeatedly failed to hold up their end of the bargain," Lightfoot said. "And so now they're dealing with the consequences of those actions."

Innovative Express Care is accused of deliberately misleading the city in how it was reporting the use of first and second dose vaccines. The company has a $5 million contract to vaccinate employees of Chicago Public Schools, but now has been cut off.

"First, they were using doses that had been allocated for the CPS vaccination project for non-CPS employees. And secondly, they had been misrepresenting their second dose needs," CDPH Director Dr. Allison Arwady said.

Innovative Express Care CEO Dr. Rahul Khare had taken part in a vaccination event with the city just last week and went on Facebook to defend the company, saying it did nothing wrong.

"All of the vaccine doses that were not used by CPS at the end of this week went to another eligible patient for their first dose," Khare said. "We always ensured that there was enough allocation for additional doses for all CPS employees."

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Chicago also has cut off Loretto Hospital's vaccine supply after shots were given to ineligible or clouted people.

Mayor Lightfoot defended the city's oversight policies as robust, saying it always starts with a conversation and vendors given a chance to correct problems.

"When they're demonstrating to us, that they're not going to play by the rules, and they're not going to give us accurate reporting, then we have to take very swift action and that's exactly what we've done," Lightfoot said.

CPS CEO Janice Jackson said Wednesday they have contracted with a new company, CIMPAR, and that all school employees who were scheduled for shots today will be rescheduled for another time this week.

Full statement from Innovative Express Care

"We strongly disagree with the allegations made by the Chicago Department of Public Health stating a misallocation of vaccines intended for CPS staff.
"Before today, we proudly operated four CPS vaccination sites and vaccinated over 6,000 CPS employees. One of the challenge of this effort was that many CPS employees were hesitant, fearful, and resistant to getting vaccinated. The CPS executive team and I were in weekly communication about how to increase the number of employees who were encouraged to get vaccinated.

"As of last week, 100% of CPS staff members had been given an opportunity to be vaccinated due to our capacity to effectively operate a vaccine distribution effort. CPS highlighted the news of an effective partnership during a CPS event last week that celebrated the vaccination distribution. In the official press release, CPS officials stated that approximately 30% of CPS employees received vaccinations as of March 17, 2021.

"Despite our best efforts, each week we had extra vaccines due to the slow uptake in CPS employee demand. All vaccine doses that were not used by CPS at the end of each week went to another eligible patient for their first dose. We always ensured that there were enough vaccines for all CPS employees who sought one. We received vaccine allocations each week, and our intention has always been to have a 100% utilization rate in order that every single dose we received was put into the arm of a qualified patient that week. Clearly, we took this commitment very seriously, which meant that seniors, frontline essential workers, and other qualified patients received vaccines. We never departed from the commitment to CPS employees, nor other qualified individuals. However, we understand now that CDPH officials expected us to store the vaccines they allocated in order to provide second doses to CPS employees. This is where the communication breakdown occurred. CDPH officials never made it clear to us that we should be storing more than half of our weekly allotment of vaccines in a freezer for people awaiting second doses. Rather, we aimed to get as many vaccines in eligible patients' arms, as quickly as possible.

"The decision by CDPH officials today leaves us shocked, saddened, and frankly disappointed. To be clear, Innovative Express Care has vaccinated eligible individuals in a phased approach as dictated by the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois since January. We have been learning with other health providers along the way, always adhering to medical ethics. We have worked with numerous community organizations to develop proactive scheduling for eligible individuals who live in medically underserved Black and Brown communities. Our past history as recorded in numerous media accounts and our patients' own voices of appreciation on social media are evidence towards our positive impact. Effective vaccine distribution should be modeled, not penalized.

"We have served the Chicago region since the start of this pandemic, and we will continue to do so. We are deeply disappointed in the city's decision to remove us as a vaccine provider. Chicago needs more vaccination sites that are distributing their doses to eligible patients, not fewer."
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