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Health care providers behind on administering COVID vaccinations, tests in Santa Clara County

Public Health Department announces plans to enforce previous health order

Senior Anique Dittrich self-administers a COVID-19 test at a clinic at Palo Alto High School on Jan. 12, 2022. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Santa Clara County officials said on Friday that major health care providers are giving only a sliver of their share of COVID-19 vaccinations and testing.

At a noon press conference, county Counsel James Williams noted the disparity, which he said has left many residents having to go to county services rather than their providers for the vaccines and tests. The county's announcement for other providers to step up to the plate comes at a critical time when testing and booster vaccinations are key to reducing the spread of infection and hospitalizations.

Sutter Health/Palo Alto Medical Foundation has approximately 320,000 Santa Clara County residents among its primary care patients, or 16.5% of the county population. Yet, since the vaccination program began, it has administered a total of 3.5% of all vaccines, including boosters. It has provided 2.4% of boosters and conducted only 2.4% of testing, Williams said.

Although Stanford Health Care claimed not to have figures related to its primary care patient count, a self-reported number given to the county Public Health Department showed it has 329,400 primary care patients in the county, 17% of the county's population. Stanford administered 6.7% of vaccinations, including boosters, and 3.7% boosters, to county residents.

Stanford Health Care spokesperson Lisa Kim said on Jan. 7 that the provider has now given a total of 41,500 booster doses, but she didn't know how that number broke down between Santa Clara and San Mateo county residents. Williams didn't specify the number of tests Stanford has provided and a county health spokesperson said that data wasn't readily available on Friday.

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Kaiser Permanente, with 600,000 Santa Clara County members, or 31% of the county population, has provided 14.8% of total vaccinations, including boosters; it has provided 15.3% of boosters and performed 12% of testing, Williams said.

Williams didn't provide data at the press conference about El Camino Health, which has locations in Mountain View and Los Gatos, but it has 140,000 primary care patients, or 7.3% of county patients, but administered 1.4% including boosters; 0.2% boosters, according to a Dec. 17, 2021, off-agenda report to the Board of Supervisors.

In contrast, the brunt of vaccine administration has fallen on the county health system, which serves 300,000 residents, or 15.5% of the county population. It has administered 37.3% of the total vaccine doses and 31.6% of booster shots. The county has provided 20.7% of tests, Williams said.

Retail pharmacies have administered 25.9% of total doses and 39.4% of boosters.

Other providers, including outside health care systems, community health clinics and other county health care centers, make up the balance.

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"The data is clear that the large systems are not providing their proportion of testing" and vaccinations, Williams said. "Unfortunately, the county itself has had to provide (the majority of) testing and vaccinations."

Neither Sutter/PAMF nor Stanford have provided the county and this news organization with any reason for the low numbers, and Sutter hasn't provided any specific data requested.

"I can tell you that Palo Alto Medical Foundation doubled appointment availability for both COVID testing and COVID boosters over the past three weeks," a Sutter Health spokesperson said in a statement to this news organization this week.

Stanford said in a statement provided by Kim that Stanford Medicine has administered more than 41,500 COVID-19 boosters to its community as part of more than 480,000 vaccine doses administered overall. It has also provided more than 12,000 booster doses to its health care workforce.

"While we are experiencing high demand for boosters, appointments are currently available throughout our network of care and can be booked by visiting our website.

"We will continue to expand our vaccination and testing operations to meet the needs of our community through expanded hours of operation and additional days of operation," she said. Stanford has recently provided vaccination clinics in East Palo Alto to boost coverage in the underserved community, notices to the community have shown.

An El Camino Health spokesperson wouldn't provide specific data on its vaccinations and boosters, saying they have no way of separating out how many of their clients received the shots and that the vaccines have been offered to the community at large. The low figures could be due to people going to other locations, he added.

County Executive Jeff Smith said during the Jan. 11 Board of Supervisors meeting that the county surmises the reason might be staffing shortages. Referring to vaccines, there's no issue with having adequate vaccines and boosters. The county itself has added dozens of vaccination sites large and small, some of which allow walk-ups, and an online system for making appointments.

In a statement released on Friday, Kaiser Permanente pushed back on the county's assertion that it isn't doing enough.

Kaiser said that on a weekly basis, it is currently processing more than 140,000 tests in northern California and administering more than 80,000 vaccine injections. At the same time, it is caring for an increase in patients who are sick with the virus.

"The highly contagious nature of this variant and its ability to infect even some who are fully immunized is challenging everyone, including those of us in health care. We are seeing significant staff illness as a result — similar to what is happening in the community.

"We object to any suggestion that our front line health care workers are not doing their fair share. We are baffled by the county's suggestion that anyone is holding back.

"The last 24 months of this pandemic have been an incredibly challenging and stressful time to work on the front lines of health care. And yet our staff and physicians continue to show their commitment to providing care and service, every day. Their work right now, and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been nothing short of inspiring."

More information about COVID-19 symptoms and care is available at kp.org.

A lack of easy access?

El Camino Health licensed vocational nurse Selena Lara places a band-aid on Song Chen's arm after she administering the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to him at an El Camino Health vaccination site in Sunnyvale on April 2, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian has been raising the question for two years regarding the small contributions by the large providers. Earlier this week he said by phone that he has heard from many constituents. In December, they said they were told all booster appointments were booked for a month and PAMF was not booking any appointments for the following month. Simitian tried the system himself and received the same response after being placed on hold for an extended period of time.

A check by this news organization found that availability appeared better this week, with open slots for same-day appointments.

Sutter said patients can book an appointment by contacting its call center at 844-987-6115 on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Appointments may also be scheduled via the My Health Online patient portal.

"While appointment availability can be limited, those interested in COVID-19 vaccinations or boosters have several options outside the Sutter network as well, including retail pharmacies and various community clinics. The MyTurn site features information on available options nearby."

PAMF didn't show up after multiple searches for providers on the state's MyTurn appointment site, which shows other providers such as Stanford and retail pharmacies.

Appointments are not being offered at the PAMF Palo Alto location; just at Mountain View, locally, a scheduling staff member said.

The appointments are also supposed to be available to anyone regardless of whether they are members of a health provider under the county's "no wrong door" system, but that option was not given upfront when calling PAMF for an appointment. Phone staff asked for information that assumed the caller is a Sutter/PAMF patient. No one asked whether the caller was not a patient of the provider. When asked if the shots are open to non-Sutter/PAMF patients, the appointment staff did affirm that, but the patients would have to fill out a questionnaire.

Palo Alto Medical Foundation. Embarcadero Media file photo.

Stanford allows patients outside of its system to also receive vaccines, according to its website, but they must register first at myhealth.stanforhealthcare.org as a patient to gain access to online scheduling.

A check on the state's MyTurn website shows on-campus sites for Stanford. A couple of same-day appointments were available on Friday. A date-range search through Jan. 31 showed a handful of appointments for Jan. 16 and Jan. 19 at sites in Palo Alto, Stanford and Redwood City. An appointment staffer said by phone that many vaccine doses and appointments are available for 5- to 11-year-olds, despite a notice on Stanford's website of limited supply.

Simitian said that "convenience is key." People have had to stand in line for hours or have been told no booster shot appointments have been available for a month. There are also multiple warnings on provider websites of shortages of vaccine doses for 5- to 11-year-olds.

"In a perfect world, people would keep trying," he said, but noted that many people will simply be discouraged. He added that the number of administered booster shots has been falling.

"Not everyone will have the patience and persistence to keep coming back," he said. When people give up, "it's not just themselves put at risk but everyone else."

"We're in one of those moments where everyone's got to do everything they possibly can on vaccinations and testing. It's an all-hands-on-deck moment," he said during a phone interview this week.

Although the county is and should be doing all that it can to get tests and vaccines out, the supervisor said there's no doubt that the urgency of that effort is exacerbated by the other health care providers. "We have never seen a moment where people say, 'We've got this covered,'" he said of their response.

"The county is a public health agency, not the health care provider for every resident of the county," he said.

Simitian hopes and expects that other health care providers would step up and do their proportional share. "I regret that's not always been the case," he said.

"If we don't up our game, we're not going to master the pandemic."

Simitian emphasized that many people in health care organizations up and down California have "truly been heroic" in their efforts during the pandemic. "It's the organizations' leadership that has to step up to the plate."

County looks to enforce testing order

Williams said on Friday that the Public Health Department will enforce its Sept. 16, 2020, health officer testing order, which requires a health care provider to give a COVID-19 test if the patient has any symptoms of COVID-19; has been exposed to a person who has tested positive for COVID-19; has been referred by the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department to their health care provider for COVID-19 testing; or is an "essential worker."

The provider is required to give a COVID-19 test when the patient shows up in person, or if they ask for the test by phone or online, no later than the end of the next day; the limit extends to three business days if they are a health care worker.

The county is encouraging anyone to report any concerns or violations directly to their health care provider or to the county at scccovidconcerns.org.​​​​

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Sue Dremann is a veteran journalist who joined the Palo Alto Weekly in 2001. She is a breaking news and general assignment reporter who also covers the regional environmental, health and crime beats. Read more >>

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Health care providers behind on administering COVID vaccinations, tests in Santa Clara County

Public Health Department announces plans to enforce previous health order

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Sat, Jan 15, 2022, 9:00 am
Updated: Sun, Jan 16, 2022, 3:04 pm

Santa Clara County officials said on Friday that major health care providers are giving only a sliver of their share of COVID-19 vaccinations and testing.

At a noon press conference, county Counsel James Williams noted the disparity, which he said has left many residents having to go to county services rather than their providers for the vaccines and tests. The county's announcement for other providers to step up to the plate comes at a critical time when testing and booster vaccinations are key to reducing the spread of infection and hospitalizations.

Sutter Health/Palo Alto Medical Foundation has approximately 320,000 Santa Clara County residents among its primary care patients, or 16.5% of the county population. Yet, since the vaccination program began, it has administered a total of 3.5% of all vaccines, including boosters. It has provided 2.4% of boosters and conducted only 2.4% of testing, Williams said.

Although Stanford Health Care claimed not to have figures related to its primary care patient count, a self-reported number given to the county Public Health Department showed it has 329,400 primary care patients in the county, 17% of the county's population. Stanford administered 6.7% of vaccinations, including boosters, and 3.7% boosters, to county residents.

Stanford Health Care spokesperson Lisa Kim said on Jan. 7 that the provider has now given a total of 41,500 booster doses, but she didn't know how that number broke down between Santa Clara and San Mateo county residents. Williams didn't specify the number of tests Stanford has provided and a county health spokesperson said that data wasn't readily available on Friday.

Kaiser Permanente, with 600,000 Santa Clara County members, or 31% of the county population, has provided 14.8% of total vaccinations, including boosters; it has provided 15.3% of boosters and performed 12% of testing, Williams said.

Williams didn't provide data at the press conference about El Camino Health, which has locations in Mountain View and Los Gatos, but it has 140,000 primary care patients, or 7.3% of county patients, but administered 1.4% including boosters; 0.2% boosters, according to a Dec. 17, 2021, off-agenda report to the Board of Supervisors.

In contrast, the brunt of vaccine administration has fallen on the county health system, which serves 300,000 residents, or 15.5% of the county population. It has administered 37.3% of the total vaccine doses and 31.6% of booster shots. The county has provided 20.7% of tests, Williams said.

Retail pharmacies have administered 25.9% of total doses and 39.4% of boosters.

Other providers, including outside health care systems, community health clinics and other county health care centers, make up the balance.

"The data is clear that the large systems are not providing their proportion of testing" and vaccinations, Williams said. "Unfortunately, the county itself has had to provide (the majority of) testing and vaccinations."

Neither Sutter/PAMF nor Stanford have provided the county and this news organization with any reason for the low numbers, and Sutter hasn't provided any specific data requested.

"I can tell you that Palo Alto Medical Foundation doubled appointment availability for both COVID testing and COVID boosters over the past three weeks," a Sutter Health spokesperson said in a statement to this news organization this week.

Stanford said in a statement provided by Kim that Stanford Medicine has administered more than 41,500 COVID-19 boosters to its community as part of more than 480,000 vaccine doses administered overall. It has also provided more than 12,000 booster doses to its health care workforce.

"While we are experiencing high demand for boosters, appointments are currently available throughout our network of care and can be booked by visiting our website.

"We will continue to expand our vaccination and testing operations to meet the needs of our community through expanded hours of operation and additional days of operation," she said. Stanford has recently provided vaccination clinics in East Palo Alto to boost coverage in the underserved community, notices to the community have shown.

An El Camino Health spokesperson wouldn't provide specific data on its vaccinations and boosters, saying they have no way of separating out how many of their clients received the shots and that the vaccines have been offered to the community at large. The low figures could be due to people going to other locations, he added.

County Executive Jeff Smith said during the Jan. 11 Board of Supervisors meeting that the county surmises the reason might be staffing shortages. Referring to vaccines, there's no issue with having adequate vaccines and boosters. The county itself has added dozens of vaccination sites large and small, some of which allow walk-ups, and an online system for making appointments.

In a statement released on Friday, Kaiser Permanente pushed back on the county's assertion that it isn't doing enough.

Kaiser said that on a weekly basis, it is currently processing more than 140,000 tests in northern California and administering more than 80,000 vaccine injections. At the same time, it is caring for an increase in patients who are sick with the virus.

"The highly contagious nature of this variant and its ability to infect even some who are fully immunized is challenging everyone, including those of us in health care. We are seeing significant staff illness as a result — similar to what is happening in the community.

"We object to any suggestion that our front line health care workers are not doing their fair share. We are baffled by the county's suggestion that anyone is holding back.

"The last 24 months of this pandemic have been an incredibly challenging and stressful time to work on the front lines of health care. And yet our staff and physicians continue to show their commitment to providing care and service, every day. Their work right now, and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been nothing short of inspiring."

More information about COVID-19 symptoms and care is available at kp.org.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian has been raising the question for two years regarding the small contributions by the large providers. Earlier this week he said by phone that he has heard from many constituents. In December, they said they were told all booster appointments were booked for a month and PAMF was not booking any appointments for the following month. Simitian tried the system himself and received the same response after being placed on hold for an extended period of time.

A check by this news organization found that availability appeared better this week, with open slots for same-day appointments.

Sutter said patients can book an appointment by contacting its call center at 844-987-6115 on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Appointments may also be scheduled via the My Health Online patient portal.

"While appointment availability can be limited, those interested in COVID-19 vaccinations or boosters have several options outside the Sutter network as well, including retail pharmacies and various community clinics. The MyTurn site features information on available options nearby."

PAMF didn't show up after multiple searches for providers on the state's MyTurn appointment site, which shows other providers such as Stanford and retail pharmacies.

Appointments are not being offered at the PAMF Palo Alto location; just at Mountain View, locally, a scheduling staff member said.

The appointments are also supposed to be available to anyone regardless of whether they are members of a health provider under the county's "no wrong door" system, but that option was not given upfront when calling PAMF for an appointment. Phone staff asked for information that assumed the caller is a Sutter/PAMF patient. No one asked whether the caller was not a patient of the provider. When asked if the shots are open to non-Sutter/PAMF patients, the appointment staff did affirm that, but the patients would have to fill out a questionnaire.

Stanford allows patients outside of its system to also receive vaccines, according to its website, but they must register first at myhealth.stanforhealthcare.org as a patient to gain access to online scheduling.

A check on the state's MyTurn website shows on-campus sites for Stanford. A couple of same-day appointments were available on Friday. A date-range search through Jan. 31 showed a handful of appointments for Jan. 16 and Jan. 19 at sites in Palo Alto, Stanford and Redwood City. An appointment staffer said by phone that many vaccine doses and appointments are available for 5- to 11-year-olds, despite a notice on Stanford's website of limited supply.

Simitian said that "convenience is key." People have had to stand in line for hours or have been told no booster shot appointments have been available for a month. There are also multiple warnings on provider websites of shortages of vaccine doses for 5- to 11-year-olds.

"In a perfect world, people would keep trying," he said, but noted that many people will simply be discouraged. He added that the number of administered booster shots has been falling.

"Not everyone will have the patience and persistence to keep coming back," he said. When people give up, "it's not just themselves put at risk but everyone else."

"We're in one of those moments where everyone's got to do everything they possibly can on vaccinations and testing. It's an all-hands-on-deck moment," he said during a phone interview this week.

Although the county is and should be doing all that it can to get tests and vaccines out, the supervisor said there's no doubt that the urgency of that effort is exacerbated by the other health care providers. "We have never seen a moment where people say, 'We've got this covered,'" he said of their response.

"The county is a public health agency, not the health care provider for every resident of the county," he said.

Simitian hopes and expects that other health care providers would step up and do their proportional share. "I regret that's not always been the case," he said.

"If we don't up our game, we're not going to master the pandemic."

Simitian emphasized that many people in health care organizations up and down California have "truly been heroic" in their efforts during the pandemic. "It's the organizations' leadership that has to step up to the plate."

Williams said on Friday that the Public Health Department will enforce its Sept. 16, 2020, health officer testing order, which requires a health care provider to give a COVID-19 test if the patient has any symptoms of COVID-19; has been exposed to a person who has tested positive for COVID-19; has been referred by the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department to their health care provider for COVID-19 testing; or is an "essential worker."

The provider is required to give a COVID-19 test when the patient shows up in person, or if they ask for the test by phone or online, no later than the end of the next day; the limit extends to three business days if they are a health care worker.

The county is encouraging anyone to report any concerns or violations directly to their health care provider or to the county at scccovidconcerns.org.​​​​

Comments

Kay
Registered user
Blossom Valley
on Jan 17, 2022 at 2:35 pm
Kay, Blossom Valley
Registered user
on Jan 17, 2022 at 2:35 pm

Really, Supervisor Simitian? The reason the County has given so many more vaccines is that when vaccine supply was constrained in the spring, the County took its supply off the top (for its well-run clinics). I appreciate what you have done with respect to establishing the No Wrong Door policy and ensuring we had a North County mass-vax site, but at this point it looks like you're just trying to score political points on the backs of exhausted, heroic health-care workers (and yes, that includes administrators too). Let's stop the finger-pointing and get back to fighting this pandemic together: Get vaccinated. Get boosted. Ventilate. Mask up. Choose indoor over outdoor. And for the love of everything, thank every health care worker you see.


Kay
Registered user
Blossom Valley
on Jan 17, 2022 at 2:37 pm
Kay, Blossom Valley
Registered user
on Jan 17, 2022 at 2:37 pm

Edit: Choose outdoor over indoor (sorry)


Johnny Yuma
Registered user
Blossom Valley
on Jan 17, 2022 at 3:04 pm
Johnny Yuma, Blossom Valley
Registered user
on Jan 17, 2022 at 3:04 pm

When these vaccines got underway, I intended to go to my provider, PAMF (Sutter). What a disappointment that was. In contrast, Valley Medical provided wonderful service — well organized.

I agree with Kay. The medical professionals are heroes. They continue to fight this pandemic every single day. I salute them.


MyOpinion
Registered user
Sylvan Park
on Jan 17, 2022 at 10:42 pm
MyOpinion, Sylvan Park
Registered user
on Jan 17, 2022 at 10:42 pm

We have been going to El Cam hospital for PCR test by appointment for over a year now . Usually the waiting area is completely empty. The staff is efficient but they could process MANY more tests if they opened up more appointments.


Steven Nelson
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Jan 18, 2022 at 12:36 pm
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Jan 18, 2022 at 12:36 pm

Embarcadero Media reporting staff - ??? What is the current (last two month) county government controlled delivered Allotments of COVID test kits, Covid vaccine full adult doses (kids are diluted more).

The last hard information I read on this - at least 6 months ago, was also that the County healthcare system took 'more than their fair share' (by percent of care under their system). This left my care provider KP - larger % than the county -system with insufficient vaccine doses.

- My wonderful Supervisor Simitian - may be 'just grandstanding' on this issue. There is every reason to believe that the chief administrative officer of the county (Smith)- who came up the governmental ranks administering county health-care systems - is not exactly unbiased in this matter.

ALLOCATION PERCENTAGES - as proportional to cliental (pre-pandemic %) seems to me to be the only metrics to pay attention to.

BTW - I had to 'register with the county health-care system' before THEY would allow me to get a shot (at the stadium). OF Course the County wants to Charge MY health care provider (KP) for the shots they give (County did not do this For Free for KP or any other system's clients).


LongResident
Registered user
another community
on Jan 20, 2022 at 3:06 am
LongResident, another community
Registered user
on Jan 20, 2022 at 3:06 am

Kaiser gets its doses of vaccine directly from the state. Santa Clara County is not involved in allocating doses to Kaiser. Kaiser though chooses how to allocate its doses among all its various locations, and they short the number sent to Santa Clara County located facilities that they have.


Steven Nelson
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Jan 20, 2022 at 4:20 pm
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Jan 20, 2022 at 4:20 pm

than you Long - I had 'forgotten' about that, but do you have a reference news article about that?

thanks


LongResident
Registered user
another community
on Jan 21, 2022 at 2:15 pm
LongResident, another community
Registered user
on Jan 21, 2022 at 2:15 pm

I don't think there is any shortage of available vaccine any more. The big issue with CVS and Walgreen's not having available appointments for 2 weeks out is simply their lack of pharmacy technicians. Kaiser patients in Santa Clara county are among those making these appointments whereas Kaiser has its own pharmacy technicians and normally doesn't generate demand for CVS or Walgreen's to hire more. Kaiser is doing even worse than the numbers indicate when you take this into account.


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