Healthcare providers in New York who are found to have violated the law regarding the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine could lose their license, be fined up to $1 million, and face possible prison time, under a new executive order Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday. The order comes after reports of a network of urgent care centers in New York City provided vaccines to people not considered a priority by the state. The first phase of distribution includes high-risk hospital workers, nursing home residents, nursing home staff, followed by all long-term and congregate care residents and staff, EMS workers, other health care workers, coroners, and medical examiners.
As first reported by the New York Post on Saturday, ParCare Community Health Network is being investigated by the state for illegally obtaining and distributing COVID-19 vaccines.
In a statement, State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said ParCare, which operates clinics in parts of Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Kiryas Joel in Orange County, “may have fraudulently obtained COVID-19 vaccine, transferred it to facilities in other parts of the state in violation of state guidelines and diverted it to members of the public.”
According to the Post, a photo of ParCare’s chief executive Gary Schlesinger receiving the vaccine surfaced on Twitter last week, although he does not appear to meet the state’s standards for vaccination priority. ParCare also posted photos on Monday showing boxes with the Moderna vaccine.
On Monday, Cuomo said the New York State Police has been pursuing an investigation into ParCare and is referring the case to the office of Attorney General Letitia James. “We want to send a clear signal to the providers that if you violate the law on these vaccinations, we will find out and you will be prosecuted,” the governor said during a press briefing.
Under the new executive order, anyone who engages in fraud to receive or administer the vaccine outside of the standards set by the state’s Department of Health “will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
The order increases penalties for providers that intentionally disregard prioritization and requires eligibility certification by recipients of the vaccine. According to Cuomo, administering the vaccine to a person knowingly not eligible could result in a fine of up to $1 million and the revocation of all state licenses, which applies to any licensed healthcare professional.
In a statement on Twitter on Sunday, ParCare said it has followed the state guidance and is cooperating with the investigation.
“During these unprecedented times, we have striven to provide critical healthcare services and administer COVID-19 vaccinations to those qualified to receive them under the New York State Department of Health’s guidelines which includes frontline healthcare workers and first responders. Parcare Community Health Network has a long history of partnering with the City of New York to provide vital healthcare services to New Yorkers who need them most – including providing COVID-19 testing.”
As of Monday, roughly 140,000 New Yorkers received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine. This week, the state will expand its vaccination priority populations to include Urgent Care Center employees, individuals administering the COVID-19 vaccine, and residents of the Office of Addiction Services and Supports facilities.