HOPKINTON — As Rhode Island continues to get failing grades for its COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy (D-Hopkinton, Westerly) said he was receiving complaints from older constituents who are still waiting for their appointments.
Part of the problem, he said, is that in late January, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont canceled vaccine appointments for Rhode Islanders in an effort to prioritize Connecticut residents. Until recently, Rhode Islanders working or studying in Connecticut could receive vaccines there, and Connecticut residents working or attending school in Rhode Island could get their vaccines here.
“There were a whole bunch of people, because Westerly Hospital is considered part of Yale New Haven, the medical system, if the primary care doctor was associated with Yale New Haven, then a Rhode Islander could go onto their specific portfolio that they have with the hospital and by going onto that portfolio site, they would be able then to go about scheduling a vaccine,” he said. “So there were so many people from this area recognizing that the Rhode Island vaccination program was so chaotic with no sense of when they were going to get their vaccine who decided ‘Well, let me see if I can get one over in Connecticut,’ and Connecticut was setting up a vaccination clinic over at Mitchell College [in New London]. I heard from so many that that’s what they had decided to do, and then, everybody who had been scheduled was canceled.”
The Rhode Island House of Representatives’ COVID-19 Task Force will meet late this afternoon to receive an update on the distribution of the vaccine.
Meanwhile, Wood River Health Services in Hope Valley continued to vaccinate its existing patients who live in Connecticut.
“That’s what got me so upset, was seeing the announcement from Wood River that they were going to be vaccinating people from Connecticut, and I’m saying ‘Wait a minute. We’ve got people who can’t even sign up because Rhode Island has done such an abysmal job, so much chaos, there’s no central reservation system,’” he said.
Kennedy pointed to the example of Massachusetts, which has created a system that allows residents without access to computers to dial 2-1-1 to make vaccination appointments, while Rhode Islanders have been more or less on their own.
“The Department of Health in Rhode Island was leaving it to everyone, ‘It’s up to you to figure out how you’re going to get a vaccination,’ and I said ‘this is ridiculous.' And yet, we’re going to allow, now, people from Connecticut, just because they utilize the services of Wood River Health Services, to come in and jump the line in front of Rhode Islanders, who can’t even sign up? They can’t even get a vaccine either in their local community or at a local pharmacy? My God, Connecticut is already moving toward vaccinating people over 65 and Rhode Island, we’re still going to be weeks away from finishing up those that are over 75," he said.
Kennedy said he communicated several times with Rhode Island Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, who this week rescinded the state policy allowing Connecticut residents who work or attend school in Rhode Island to get their vaccinations in Rhode Island.
Wood River Health Services issued a statement on Tuesday explaining the new state policy.
“In a new directive from RI HEALTH this week, the state reversed its decision to allow out-of-state patients to be vaccinated in Rhode Island,” the statement reads. “We will be able to provide second doses to anyone who got their first dose from us, and will vaccinate anyone we have already scheduled, but going forward will only vaccinate our Rhode Island patients.”
Kennedy suggested that more resources be allocated to vaccinating residents in the Westerly-Chariho corner of Rhode Island and questioned the state’s vaccination priorities.
“This corner of the state, while we’ve had fewer incidents of COVID-19 infection, we’re no less important than any other area of the state,” he said. “If the department had just followed the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines for vaccinations, we would be talking about moving into the next group of individuals at this point in time. But the fact that the department decided they wanted to march to their own drumbeat and listen to other people, to make it [as] equitable as possible, what a failure this has been. No wonder we got an ‘F’ rating … I’m not backing down trying to make sure that my constituents are going to get their vaccine in an expedited manner.”