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Hospital system contradicts DeSantis on COVID-19 vaccine delivery to luxury Keys enclave

David Fleshler and Skyler Swisher, South Florida Sun Sentinel on

Published in News & Features

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Baptist Health on Friday disputed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ claim that his administration had nothing to do with the decision to send 1,200 COVID-19 vaccine doses to Ocean Reef Club, the luxury Key Largo community at the center of controversy over whether the wealthy received privileged access to vaccines.

The governor made the claim at a news conference Thursday, when he slammed a Miami Herald report that claimed the state provided special access to vaccines to an enclave that contained many wealthy campaign donors.

“That was not a site that we were involved in, in the Keys,” DeSantis said. “That was one of the South Florida hospital systems (that) went to this community of seniors, I think that’s great. I want seniors to get shots, I think they did a good job of doing that. We just weren’t involved with it in any way, shape, or form.”

But a statement Friday from Baptist Health South Florida spokeswoman Dori Alvarez appeared to contradict the governor, saying the state was involved in the decision and that the hospital system assisted only in the logistics of delivering doses already earmarked by the state for Ocean Reef.

“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,” she wrote in an email to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Meredith Beatrice, spokeswoman for DeSantis, responded: “The Governor’s office statement from yesterday still stands, which is: This was not a state supported senior community vaccination site, nor was it requested by the Governor.”

 

Jason Mahon, spokesman for the Florida Department of Health and Florida Emergency Management Division, said in an email, “To be clear, neither the Division of Emergency Management nor the Department of Health ever directed Baptist Health to open a POD (point of dispensing) in Ocean Reef. Any statement to the contrary is false. From the beginning the state has sent the COVID-19 vaccine to support hospitals in their efforts to vaccinate the most vulnerable. We will continue to do so.”

A phone message and email left with the Medical Center at Ocean Reef was not returned.

Ocean Reef, which covers 2,500 acres in northern Key Largo, offers its wealthy residents golf courses, boat docks, a private airport and the lush ambiance of a Caribbean island within an hour’s drive of Miami.

The Miami Herald reported this week that Ocean Reef’s residents received 1,200 doses in January, ahead of most communities in the state. A month later, Ocean Reef resident Bruce Rauner, the former Republican governor of Illinois, wrote DeSantis’ political committee a $250,000 check. That donation came on top of donations of $5,000 each from 17 Ocean Reef residents through December, according to the Herald.

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