ICYMI: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Faces Heat from Hospital for Redirecting Limited Vaccine Supply to Campaign Donors
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is trying to brush off claims that he prioritized white and wealthy campaign donors for vaccines – but hospitals and county officials are not letting him off the hook.
In an explosive report over the weekend, The Tampa Bay Times confirmed Baptist Health South Florida and Monroe County were ordered by DeSantis’ administration to send vaccines to wealthy retirement communities. As a result of the state swiping the vaccines, Baptist Health South Florida was forced to cancel vaccine appointments for hundreds of seniors and people with underlying medical conditions.
The redirected vaccines went to the Ocean Reef Club – a wealthy gated community in the Florida Keys. It appears Gov. DeSantis let the Ocean Reef Club’s members jump the line to boost his campaign reserves. The Miami Herald reported last week, “The only people from Key Largo who gave to DeSantis’ political committee live in Ocean Reef. All 17 of them had given the governor contributions of $5,000 each through December 2020, according to the Florida Division of Elections.”
The Ocean Reef Republican donors received COVID-19 vaccinations before much of the state, including some health care workers. So far, DeSantis has raised $3.9 million since December, and his $2.7 million in contributions in February was the most he’s raised since running for governor in 2018.
Ocean Reef Club was only the beginning – DeSantis has been setting up pop-up clinics at other wealthy retirement communities too, favoring campaign donors and political power players over those who need vaccines the most. DeSantis has threatened to pull vaccines from counties that criticize him.
Read more about DeSantis’ corrupt vaccine rollout below.
Tampa Bay Times: Hospital, county contradict Gov. Ron DeSantis over Keys vaccines
After Gov. Ron DeSantis claimed “the state was not involved” in arranging for more than 1,200 Keys residents in the wealthy Ocean Reef community to get accelerated access to the COVID-19 vaccine in January, both Baptist Health South Florida — which supplied the doses — and Monroe County have contradicted his claims, saying the distribution was authorized by the state.
“It is our understanding that the Medical Center at Ocean Reef asked the State of Florida for vaccine doses, and the State of Florida asked Baptist Health to take delivery of the doses to our ultra-cold freezer storage for delivery to the Medical Center at Ocean Reef,’’ said Dori A. Alvarez, spokesperson for Baptist Health Systems in a statement to the Herald/Times late Friday.
According to a Jan. 22 newsletter sent to residents of the exclusive Ocean Reef Club and obtained by the Miami Herald, the Medical Center at Ocean Reef reported: “Over the course of the last two weeks, the Medical Center has vaccinated over 1200 homeowners who qualify under the State of Florida’s Governor’s current Order for those individuals who are 65 years of age or older. We are fortunate to have received enough vaccines to ensure both the first and second for those vaccinated.”
The message also acknowledged that doses were in short supply: “At this time, however, the majority of the State has not received an allocation of first doses of vaccines for this week and beyond, and the timing of any subsequent deliveries remains unclear.”
The governor has come under increasing criticism for establishing himself as the gatekeeper of vaccine distribution in Florida, as he directed doses to select communities while his political committee raised more than $3.9 million from donors, some of whom are affiliated with the vaccine locations.
County contradicts governor
Monroe County Commissioner Mike Forster also confirmed that the state was in charge of the vaccine distribution to Ocean Reef.
“The where, when and how many vaccines that are shot in the arms of my constituents are first decided at the state level to wherever they determine is highest and best use, and are also allocated to our Health Department, which is state run, and our Emergency Management,’’ he told the Miami Herald.
Foster said that the county was not asked to weigh in on the allocation and distribution of the vaccines, but many people were aware that Ocean Reef was among the first to be getting them.
“I, and I’m sure others, heard murmurs as to my constituents in Ocean Reef getting vaccines,’’ he said. “But, I can tell you unequivocally, that I never saw anything that was facilitated by anyone in the county.”
Last month, a high-end community that Republican fundraiser Pat Neal helped develop was chosen by DeSantis to host a pop-up vaccination clinic near Bradenton. Only people from two ZIP codes were eligible to receive the vaccine at the Lakewood Ranch site, and names were chosen by Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, who included herself on her vaccine selection list.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Senate Democratic Leader Gary Farmer on Thursday urged the U.S. Department of Justice to look into whether the $3.9 million in contributions made to the governor’s political committee since December were connected to favorable treatment for vaccine distribution.
“If this isn’t public corruption, I don’t know what is,’’ Fried said.
For two months, reporters have asked the DeSantis administration to release the location and criteria used to distribute vaccines but it has refused, suggesting instead that the public trust its word.
Meanwhile, disclosure reports for DeSantis’ political committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis, show that since December the governor has raised $3.9 million, including $2.7 million in February alone when he was focusing on the pop-up vaccination sites. DeSantis is expected to seek re-election in 2022 but has not formally announced his candidacy.
One resident of Ocean Reef, Bruce Rauner, the former Republican governor of Illinois and former chairman of the Chicago-based private equity firm GTCR, wrote a $250,000 check on Feb. 25, a week after his 65th birthday which then made him eligible for the vaccine in Florida, according to the Chicago Tribune.