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Statement from Attorney General Neronha on review of vaccine distribution by Lifespan and Care New England

"In late January 2021, the Attorney General's Office undertook a review of Lifespan and Care New England (CNE) in response to public reports that Lifespan and CNE had offered their respective board members an opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, which at that time was in limited supply and intended for the use of frontline healthcare workers. The purpose of that review was to determine what guidance the hospitals received from the Rhode Island Department of Health regarding the early phases of their vaccine rollout and whether they had complied with that guidance, the state law or regulations.

Today, this Office shared its findings and recommendations with the leaders of Lifespan, Care New England and RIDOH. A copy of the letter is also made available to the public here.

In sum, the review conducted by this office concluded that: (1) RIDOH did not provide Lifespan or CNE with specific guidance regarding prioritization during the initial vaccination phase, (2) because RIDOH gave Lifespan and CNE wide discretion in vaccinating their hospital staff, including vaccination prioritization, we cannot find that Lifespan or CNE violated any specific directives, policies or laws in connection with their decision to vaccinate board members. Nevertheless, for reasons set forth in the letter, this Office strongly believes that Lifespan and CNE should have acted differently. By offering vaccinations to all of their board members, irrespective of any individualized criteria applicable to Rhode Islanders generally, at a time when Rhode Islanders were gravely concerned about their health and that of their loved ones, Lifespan and CNE erred, and significantly so. This erosion of public confidence in the fairness of the process undermines broader willingness to follow the rules.

This unfortunate episode highlighted the consequences of straying too far from those public health principles that have guided vaccine distribution in Rhode Island: vaccinating those who are at greatest risk of spreading, contracting, and dying from COVID-19. As Rhode Island's health care advocate, we hope that these principles continue to guide our vaccine distribution policies in the state."