Catholic Health System is asking the public for patience as they prepare to take on the role of COVID vaccine regional hub coordinator. But executives say they’re already at work to plan Phase Two of the state's vaccination distribution across five counties.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo first announced his selections for regional hub leaders during his Wednesday morning COVID briefing.
"We're setting up regional vaccination hubs. They're going to be led by local hospital systems. Why? Because this is a medical operation, not a political operation," Cuomo said. "If you remember with the COVID testing, there was a lot of back-and-forth ‘well, who got it first’ and mostly favoritism, et cetera. Medical professionals are going to administer Phase Two."
Mark Sullivan, president and chief executive officer of Catholic Health System, says he is honored and humbled by the governor's selection, but adds that the coordination will not be about his organization alone. CHS will be one partner in a larger coalition that will prepare and execute the rollout of vaccinations beginning with the state's second phase.
"There's really three key components. The one that I'm going to start with is the most important and that's the regional planning," Sullivan said. "This plan or coalition needs to be based on data, information census data, disease prevalence, co-morbidities, those most vulnerable in the population of citizens throughout the five counties, so the regional planning group will need to be focusing on that and that group will be underway shortly."
In Phase Two, essential workers and people deemed to have underlying health conditions would qualify for vaccination. Workers on the front lines of the pandemic, including physicians and nurses, were among the first to receive shots Monday. CHS officials also confirmed Wednesday that the first distribution of the vaccine among its employees in high-risk areas began Monday. The general public is expected to begin receiving the vaccine by spring.
The plan, which must be submitted to the governor's office for review by the end of the month, also calls for implementation of a healthcare equity task force.
"We're having stakeholders from throughout our community," said Rebecca McCarthy Boyle, Catholic Health's chief integration officer, "and we know that we really need to make an effort to ensure that we inform folks in the rural area, and we do inform folks who are new to our community, and we do inform folks who feel that they have been marginalized. We want to be very inclusive, so that is absolutely a part of our planning.”
The Western New York Region, as designated by Albany, covers Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie and Niagara counties.