New photos show members of the public receiving the COVID-19 vaccine at a New York clinic under criminal investigation for allegedly giving unauthorized doses to the public before frontline healthcare workers.
ParCare Community Health Network, which has locations in Brooklyn and upstate Orange County, is accused of improperly obtaining 3,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine and giving it to members of the public who weren’t under the state’s first phase of distributions.
The healthcare network ‘may have fraudulently obtained COVID-19 vaccine, transferred it to facilities in other parts of the state in violation of state guidelines and diverted it to members of the public,’ state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said in a news release Saturday.
ParCare shared photos on social media showing the Moderna vaccine in refrigerators, however the clinic wasn’t officially listed to receive the doses.
The Rabbinical Alliance of America shared photos of ParCare CEO and president Gary Schlesinger receiving the vaccine, even though he does not appear to be in a group that qualifies, but later deleted it.
Under New York state guidelines the first to receive the vaccine include high-risk hospital workers, nursing home residents, nursing home staff, long-term and congregate care residents and staff, and coroners and medical examiners – not the elderly or those with pre-existing conditions.
Gary Schlesinger, the CEO and President of ParCare Healthcare Network based in Brooklyn, New York, pictured above receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. The healthcare network is under investigation for allegedly improperly obtaining the vaccines and distributing them to the public
Mark Appel, a well-known nonprofit leader who once served on the board of the city Health and Hospitals Corp, was one of the first recipients of the vaccine at ParCare. He said: ‘If Gary got the vaccines first, God bless him. The state should investigate why they can’t get more people vaccinated fast enough’
In the fridge: ParCare shared this photo on December 21 showing refrigerated doses of the COVID-19 vaccine
Other photos and video on social media show a group of rabbis and Jewish leaders getting vaccinated at some of ParCare’s six locations.
ParCare claimed it received 3,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine, local news outlet BoroPark24 reported December 21 and Schlesinger said he anticipated 500 people would be vaccinated that same day at his Boro Park clinic.
‘Hundreds of patients were already vaccinated today, and people are still coming in,’ he said to the news site.
However, the Parcare network is not among the facilities listed as a state-designated vaccination hub.
On a Facebook page linked to one of its Brooklyn locations, they posted on December 16 to say that they had been ‘authorized to distribute the #CovidVaccine for people who fall under certain criteria’.
It’s not clear how Schlesinger obtained the vaccine.
On December 21 ParCare, which has six locations, posted that it received the COVID-19 vaccine even though the clinic wasn’t officially listed to receive the doses
ParCare allegedly gave doses to people in the public who didn’t fall under the state’s first wave of vaccine distribution. Under phase one the vaccine is supposed to be restricted to high risk medical workers and nursing home residents and staff
ParCare set up a website where residents can register for the vaccine. Schlesinger said those who want to get it have to be over 60 or have underlying conditions and will get it on a first come first serve basis – a violation of the state’s rules.
It’s not clear how Schlesinger obtained the vaccine
‘Once you are on the list, we have to vet to make sure that you are either a healthcare worker, are over 60, or have underlying conditions. We will not give the vaccine to people who are not eligible for this first batch of the shots,’ Schlesinger said.
The vaccine is supposed to be free but ParCare’s website asks those interested in being inoculated to provide their insurance information.
Schlesinger is a prominent figure in the New York Orthodox Jewish community with ties to Mayor de Blasio, Attorney General Letitia James, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, and Brooklyn borough president and mayoral candidate Eric Adams, according to the New York Post.
The Borough Park neighborhood, where the ParCare clinic that received the Moderna doses is located, is the same area where protests broke out in the fall decrying Mayor Bill De Blasio and Gov Andrew Cuomo’s COVID-19 safety guidelines, where members of the Orthodox Jewish community defied wearing masks.
Schlesinger pictured raising a fist in front of a ParCare sign
On Saturday ParCare shared a statement that they complied with the state’s vaccine distribution guidelines and are cooperating in the investigation
‘We take this very seriously and DOH will be assisting State Police in a criminal investigation into this matter,’ Zucker said.
‘Anyone found to have knowingly participated in this scheme will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,’ he added.
On Saturday ParCare shared a statement that they complied with the state’s vaccine distribution guidelines and are cooperating in the investigation.
‘During these unprecedented times, we have striven to provide critical healthcare services and administer COVID-19 vaccinations to those qualified to receive them under the New York State Department of Health’s guidelines which includes frontline healthcare workers and first responders.
‘Parcare Community Health Network has a long history of partnering with the City of New York to provide vital healthcare services to New Yorkers who need them most – including providing COVID-19 testing
‘As we actively cooperate with the New York State Department of Health on this matter, we will continue to perform top-quality healthcare services to help New York come out of this pandemic,’ the clinic said in a statement.
The healthcare network ‘may have fraudulently obtained COVID-19 vaccine, transferred it to facilities in other parts of the state in violation of state guidelines and diverted it to members of the public,’ state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker (above) said
Parcare posted on December 16 to say that they had been ‘authorized to distribute the #CovidVaccine for people who fall under certain criteria’ but are not officially listed
View of Parcare Health & Medical Center in Monroe in Orange County. The network also has locations in Brooklyn and in Manhattan that received doses of the vaccine
Mark Appel, a well-known nonprofit leader who once served on the board of the city Health and Hospitals Corp, was one of the first recipients of the vaccine at the ParCare clinic.
He said there’s nothing wrong with him getting it because he’s diabetic and spends time in hospitals for his charity called The Bridge.
‘I don’t feel bad that I got it. I’m out there every day helping people on the front lines,’ he said to the New York Daily News.
Appel defended Schlesinger for getting the vaccine before other health organizations saying: ‘If Gary got the vaccines first, God bless him. The state should investigate why they can’t get more people vaccinated fast enough.’
According to its website, the provider is ‘a multi-specialty center providing such services as primary care, internal medicine, dermatology, physical therapy, and pediatrics; helping our patients to maintain optimal health and prevent potential diseases’.
This would be the first case of fraud regarding the vaccine rollout in New York since the distribution began on December 15.
It is unclear what penalties Parcare could face if found guilty of fraud.
Moderna was contacted for comment but had not yet responded.
As of Wednesday, the last time that an update was given, 89,000 New Yorkers have now received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose.
According to a statement, 22,000 doses were administered in 90 nursing home facilities.
On Saturday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that the state is ‘vaccinating New Yorkers as fast as possible’.
As of Sunday there have been more than 914,500 cases of COVID-19 in New York State and more than 29,300 deaths.
Nationwide, 18.9 million Americans have been infected with coronavirus and there have been 331,900 deaths.