Florida company accused of giving vaccines to rich donors as seniors struggle to get shots

Upscale nursing home claims it did nothing wrong

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 23: A bottle of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is seen during a press conference on December 23, 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Broward Health Medical Center began vaccinating frontline healthcare workers last week with the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine and are continuing to inoculate frontline caregivers with both of the vaccines after the arrival of the Moderna. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) (Joe Raedle, 2020 Getty Images)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Florida launched an investigation Wednesday into an upscale nursing home amid reports that it administered coronavirus vaccines to wealthy donors and members of a country club along with its residents and employees.

The Washington Post and New York Post both reported that MorseLife Health System, a nonprofit that operates a nursing home and assisted living facility in West Palm Beach, has given vaccinations to donors and members of the Palm Beach Country Club, whose foundation has donated at least $75,000 to MorseLife since 2015, tax records show.

The newspapers reported that the vaccinations were organized by MorseLife CEO Keith Myers and New Jersey-based developer David Mack, who is a member of various MorseLife boards and chairman of the country club foundation's board. The vaccines were distributed at the Joseph L. Morse Health Center, which is on David S. Mack Drive.

Meredith Beatrice, a spokeswoman for Gov. Ron DeSantis, said in an email to The Associated Press that the governor “has been extremely clear that vaccine should only be administered to Florida’s seniors 65 and older, frontline health care workers, and long-term care facility residents and staff.”

“We are investigating this situation and will hold any bad actors accountable,” she wrote.

The governor also weighed in on Thursday when a reporter asked him about the allegations during a vaccine-related news conference.

“So obviously that’s something that is being investigated, needs to be. The nursing home and long-term care program is for residents and staff of long-term care facilities. That’s who it’s for. Look, if you’re not a resident or a staff member of a long-term care facility but you’re 65 and up, there’s other options for you. We want you to get vaccinated. But to go under that rubric when you’re not a resident and you’re not a staff member, that’s definitely going outside of what the guidance is and what the program’s for. So when we found out about it, we did. We got the inspector general looking at it, the Department of Health has already investigated and we think we’ll have something pretty soon on that so ... put the seniors first, put these elderly nursing home residents first,” DeSantis said.

George Shea, a spokesman for David Mack and his brother, Bill Mack, said in a statement Wednesday that the Macks were helping MorseLife in its efforts to distribute the vaccine and did nothing wrong. He said the vaccinations followed state protocols by limiting those given to non-employees to people who are 65 and older.

He denied that the distribution was targeted at Palm Beach Country Club members. Shea did not respond to reports that the Macks were among those getting vaccinated. The brothers are both about 80 years old.

Myers did not respond to a phone message left Wednesday at his MorseLife office. The company on its website says, “our goal is to ensure that older adults enjoy full, rewarding lives in an atmosphere of luxury, outstanding service, and compassionate care.”

The country club declined comment.

Florida state Rep. Omari Hardy, a Democrat whose district includes the MorseLife compound, said it’s appalling that the wealthy were given exclusive access to the vaccine while older residents of his district and throughout Florida have been struggling to get shots. Phone systems for scheduling appointments have crashed and older residents of some counties where the vaccine has been distributed on a first-come, first-served basis have been forced to camp out overnight to get inoculated.

Hardy said the situation is emblematic of how many wealthy people have gotten richer during the pandemic, while many poor and middle class Americans have lost jobs and sometimes even their homes. He said many of his constituents have contacted him to get access to the vaccine for themselves, a parent or grandparent, but there is nothing he can do.

“I am a constitutional officer of the state of Florida, but I can’t pull any strings to help them — nor should I be able to,” Hardy said. “But these people can buy themselves a place at the front of the line.”