By David Brand and Rachel Vick
Update, 6:21 p.m. Jan. 23, 2021 — This story has been updated with specific information about vaccine distribution at a Jamaica Hills nursing home.
Chana Wiesenfeld, 90, survived the Holocaust, a political prison camp in Cyprus and the Israeli War of Independence. Now her son fears she won’t make it through the latest crisis inside a Jamaica Hills nursing home.
Wiesenfeld resides at the Margaret Tietz Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, but has not yet received a COVID-19 vaccine, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld said.
“She cries every day that she doesn’t have the vaccine because there’s no freedom without it,” said the younger Wiesenfeld, a former official in the state’s Economic Development Corporation.
Healthcare workers from Walgreens administered vaccines to 64 residents at the 200-bed facility on Dec. 30, said Rich Azzopardi, an advisor to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The federal government has contracted with Walgreens and CVS to run vaccine distribution at long-term care facilities. Walgreens will return Sunday to administer second doses, and first doses to people who did not get shots last month, Azzopardi said.
Wiesenfeld questioned why his mother didn’t receive the vaccine the first time.
“She should have been vaccinated in December,” he said. “It’s inexcusable. If someone doesn’t want it that’s their problem, but give it to the people who want it and need it.”
The experience underscores an uneven vaccine rollout across the state, and a lack of information when it comes to distribution at specific long-term care facilities. (Azzopardi contacted the Eagle with information about vaccine distribution at the Margaret Tietz nursing home after an earlier version of this story was published).
State officials have shared vaccine distribution data by region, but not by jurisdiction, by borough or by facility. Gareth Rhodes, an aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said 57,000 long-term care facility residents have received the COVID vaccines from Walgreens and CVS. Another 13,000 have declined, he tweeted Jan. 18.
In New York City, 20,245 of 34,031 long-term care facility residents — 59 percent — have received COVID vaccines, according to state data that Cuomo presented at a daily press briefing Jan. 18. Nearly 7,000, or 21 percent, have declined.
Still, about 7,000 residents, or 20 percent, have not had the opportunity to receive or decline vaccinations. The state Health Department referred to Rhodes’ Jan. 18 tweet thread when questioned about the gap.
Rhodes said residents did not get doses if they were not “medically qualified for vaccination (ie currently COVID positive),” were “unable to give consent on their own” or arrived at the facility after the first doses were distributed.
Weisenfeld said none of those considerations applied to his mother, however.
Other Queens residents have shared similar experiences, including Councilmember Robert Holden. At a council hearing Friday, Holden said his mother did not receive a vaccine at her nursing home because the doses were reserved for long-term residents.
She tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month and is currently hospitalized, he said.
“My mom had only been there a few months. My mom was not vaccinated,” he said. “There was an outbreak with 24 patients. Now my mom’s the 25th.”
Forest Hills resident Jill Ackerman said her mother Joan contracted COVID-19 inside nearby Fairview Rehab and Nursing Home while recovering from a broken hip earlier this month.
”She didn’t get the vaccine. She got COVID,” Ackerman said. She said her mother was hospitalized and is now staying in a Manhattan rehab center.
A Fairview official declined to comment and directed questions to the facility’s website.
The state Health Department declined to provide a breakdown of the number of vaccines administered at specific nursing homes and long-term care facilities, instead pointing to Cuomo’s Jan. 18 presentation. The city Health Department referred questions to the state.
Walgreens and CVS, the two corporations that contract with the federal government to administer vaccines in nursing homes, are not sharing information either. Walgreens did not respond to multiple requests for information.
CVS spokesperson Joseph Goode said the first round of nursing home doses are complete, but declined to provide specific facility totals.
“We are reporting to Operation Warp Speed through its Tiberius tool information about our completed COVID-19 vaccination clinics at long-term care facilities, including clinic dates, the number of patients vaccinated and supply of vaccines used,” he said, referring to the federal vaccine program.
“But we are not breaking down hyper-local reporting,” he added.
Without that information available, the Eagle contacted 45 long-term care facilities in Queens to find out how many vaccines have been administered at each site.
Staff and officials at just four nursing homes shared information, ranging from specific totals to general perceptions.
That includes Queens Boulevard Extended Care Facility in Woodside. On Dec. 30, the Eagle visited the nursing home as Walgreens healthcare workers administered about 380 vaccines to staff and residents in the 280-bed facility.
At the 200-bed Bridge View Nursing Home in Whitestone, 118 residents and 75 staff members received their first doses, said Nursing Director Franz Jermaine. CVS will be back Feb. 1 and 2 to administer the second round of vaccines, Jermaine said.
A supervisor at the Far Rockaway Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing who was not authorized to speak to the press said “close to 75 percent” of residents have received the first dose. “Whoever wanted one could get one,” they said. Fewer staff members have gotten their shots because many don’t trust the vaccine, the person added.
The picture was less clear at Flushing Hospital Medical Center.
“As far as I know it’s a lot,” said a supervisor who spoke by phone.
Administrators and supervisors contacted by phone and email at the other 41 facilities declined to share information, directed calls to other officials who did not respond or deferred to CVS and Walgreens.
Assemblymember Ron Kim, a vocal critic of the state’s response to the pandemic inside nursing homes, called on Cuomo and the Health Department to share more information about vaccine administration at specific facilities.
“There’s no real transparency and there’s a lot of confusion going on,” he said.