Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center President and CEO Lillian Montoya says the hospital is vaccinating patients 75 and older from its own database to ensure eligibility in accordance with the health department's vaccination plan.

SFR had inquired about Christus' practice following a news conference earlier this week in which both Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Health Secretary-designate Dr. Tracie Collins—in response to a question from SFR about hospitals vaccinating their own patient populations—said hospitals should not be using their own patient populations for vaccinations. Doctors from Christus and Presbyterian had discussed using their own databases at a prior news conference on Monday.

In a statement to SFR, Montoya writes:

"In addition to vaccinating our own healthcare workers and those outside the CHRISTUS St. Vincent family throughout the community, CHRISTUS St. Vincent is currently vaccinating patients 75 and older in accordance with New Mexico Department of Health guidelines. Patients from this age group are currently selected randomly from our database (4,300 total), as several New Mexico hospitals are also currently doing. An important assurance that we are indeed vaccinating people 75 and older is that our hospital records of age and eligibility are reliable and verifiable. Additionally, we are actively working with community partners and providers to identify high-risk individuals and populations."

Sourcing from Christus' own database "and through community partners," Montoya writes, "has afforded us the ability to vaccinate a greater number of eligible community members at a greater speed. This approach complements the efforts of multiple local agencies that are distributing vaccines by sourcing candidates exclusively from the Department of Health. It is because Santa Fe County has multiple channels for people to receive the vaccine that our community is leading the state in the percentage of population vaccinated."

Montoya also points out that Christus is only receiving approximately 1,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine each week "which allows us to administer only 500 first-time doses and 500 second doses per week. We look forward to a robust supply of vaccines that will allow us to reach even more of the 130,000 people that live in Santa Fe County."

Although the hospitals are vaccinating according to the required phases of the DOH plan, choosing from their own populations is less equitable, both the governor and Collins said.

"To be fair, there's not enough vaccine," Lujan Grisham noted. "And to be fair, I need hospitals and providers and they've been amazing." And while hospitals, she said, are critical in administering the vaccine, particularly to health care workers eligible in Phase 1A, she said the state has been "really firm" in communicating to providers they need to work through the DOH system.

"Hospitals are not supposed to go through their patient lists in that way," she said.  "It's an area Dr. Collins is continuing to work to tighten up. And she will continue to do that. Because if was a recent patient and I have a health record at a hospital and I'm more likely to get a vaccine than if I haven't been in several years, that's not a fair way to distribute limited vaccine. It is not. Without picking on providers, this is a place to be very clear. The system we have created was intended to provide equity, fairness and a responsible effort and when providers don't work with us exactly in that way, they actually prejudice other New Mexicans and it's wrong."

Collins noted the health department is currently evaluating New Mexico communities within the context of the social vulnerability index criteria to "target" how vaccines are distributed and ensure they are reaching the most vulnerable communities. "It goes against this [situation of] hospitals looking at their patent populations," she said, "what we want to do is guide them to really target the most vulnerable, those most at risk for bad outcomes and what's what we're working at currently."

In a statement to SFR, Presbyterian Healthcare Services Medical Director Dr. Denise Gonzales said “Presbyterian is following the State’s current Phase 1B criteria to vaccinate individuals 75 or older and those who are 16 and older with high-risk health conditions. We have worked with NMDOH to put together a plan that includes providing vaccines to healthcare workers, community members and to existing Presbyterian Medical Group patients, as supply allows.”

SFR was unable to solicit a comment from the health department directly responding to Christus and Presbyterian's reasons and context for using some patient populations for vaccines. (SFR also reached out to UNM Health, which said it is not vaccinating its in-patient population).

In response to specific questions on this topic, DOH Communications Director Matt Bieber wrote via email:

"Our understanding is that hospitals are vaccinating according to current eligibility criteria. We are seeking to onboard as many providers as possible into the state registration system."

Bieber did not respond to a follow-up email again requesting response to the specific issue of hospitals vaccinating from their own patient populations.