BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – County commissioners on Tuesday approved contracting with physician group Omni Healthcare to help administer the COVID-19 vaccine — if allocations reach a level higher than the Florida Department of Health drive-thru site in Viera can handle.
The commission vote was 3-2, according to reporting from Florida Today. Chair Rita Pritchett and Commissioners Bryan Lober and Curt Smith voted in favor. Vice Chair Kristine Zonka and Commissioner John Tobia voted against the proposal.
Whether Omni ever gets the opportunity to administer vaccines under this contract is open to question, because the Department of Health-Brevard site in Viera can handle up to 8,000 vaccine doses a week. Currently, the DOH-Brevard is receiving 3,500 doses a week from the state.
“What we’re asking for may not ever happen,” Omni Healthcare President and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Craig Deligdish told commissioners.
Deligdish says Omni has the capacity to administer 1,000 vaccines a day, six days a week, at each of three of its locations — Melbourne, Merritt Island and Palm Bay — for a total of 18,000 doses a week.
Under a revised proposal the county received on March 10, Deligdish said Omni would not charge Brevard County to administer vaccines at its locations.
Rather, Omni would “seek funding to support vaccine administration from a variety of non-county sources” that may include medical insurance; the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act; the American Rescue Plan; and Federal Emergency Management Agency public assistance reimbursement.
Deligdish said Omni will not charge patients without insurance, and will not charge patients with insurance any co-pays or deductibles for the administration of the vaccine.
The county already has several other agreements in place for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines if the Department of Health gets more than 8,000 doses a week.
The County Commission in January approved a plan under which county staff was authorized to sign agreements with three hospital companies that would increase the vaccination capacity by 12,500 doses a week.
Under the plan:
- Health First would administer the vaccine at two sites in central and south Brevard.
- Parrish Medical Center would administer the vaccine at one site in north Brevard.
- Rockledge Regional Medical Center/Steward Family Hospital would administer the vaccine at two sites in central and south Brevard.
There would be no cost to the county, recipients or insurance companies.
Additionally, the Florida Department of Health/Emergency Management is working with municipalities to enter into an agreement under which participating municipalities would receive vaccines and distribute them locally, under terms and conditions similar to the county’s agreements with local hospital systems. These agreements would increase vaccine distribution capacity by an additional 2,500 a week.
As a last resort, should the county’s allocation from the Department of Health exceed 23,000 doses a week, the county could implement a previously approved contract with Caliburn Co. for the company to administer 5,000 vaccines a week at a site on Merritt Island, at a cost to the county of $22 per shot.
Jason Steele, a former member of the Florida House of Representatives who appeared before the County Commission as a lobbyist for Omni, said Omni had felt it was being “pushed off to the side” in the vaccine distribution process.
“This is about the safety and health of the people that are out there in the general public,” Steele said. “We need as many people as possible that can provide these shots to the general public.”
Lober said he supported the plan as part of the county’s efforts to assure that it has the capacity to administer whatever the volume of vaccines the state provides the local Department of Health office. If state officials believe the county is not administering the vaccines in a timely fashion, Lober said, it could redirect doses to other counties.
“I don’t mind having more (providers) available in the arsenal,” Lober said.
In explaining her vote against Omni’s proposal, Zonka said she had no problem with the county using outside entities for vaccine administration, if necessary. But she said her issue is having “fair competition,” adding that she would have liked to have the county open up the process by seeking requests for proposals from any entity that wanted to be considered for vaccine administration.
Tobia voted no after noting that the county self-insures its employees, so if Omni vaccinated county employees, then sought insurance reimbursement, there would be a cost to the county — and its taxpayers.
In January, Omni secured 2,000 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from the state Division of Emergency Management and Department of Health. It administered these doses in just over two days at its center in Melbourne to senior citizens and health care providers with direct patient contact.
Deligdish said Omni also had scheduled more than 20,000 appointments for additional patients but has not received additional shipments of the vaccine.
The fact that Omni continued to preregister people for vaccine appointments when it didn’t have more doses in hand concerned Zonka and Robert Burns, a Viera resident who spoke before the commission on Omni’s proposal.
“It is my opinion this is not needed,” Burns said, adding the that county already has the resources to administer the vaccine without adding Omni to the mix.
Deligdish said after the meeting that Omni informs people who call seeking a vaccination appointment that it does not have vaccines on hand.
Separately, Omni has provided more than 50,000 COVID-19 tests to area residents since the pandemic began, Deligdish said.