WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A large West Palm Beach nursing home will pay $1.75 million to settle claims it gave COVID-19 vaccines to wealthy donors who were not eligible for the shots.
The shots were given out in late 2020 when the vaccines had just rolled out and were limited to the most vulnerable individuals and health-care workers. At the time, even those eligible for the shots had a hard time getting them.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, an executive from MorseLife steered shots that were supposed to go to the facility's elderly residents and caregivers to wealthy donors instead.
A settlement was announced Thursday by the Department of Justice.
The Department of Justice released texts from MorseLife's CEO that showed the facility planned to classify donors as "employees" so they could get the shot.
"Go after the billionaires first," another text message from CEO Keith Myers to MorseLife fundraisers read.
The Department of Justice said it showed this was an attempt to use the vaccines as a fundraising tool.
A spokeswoman for MorseLife provided the following statement:
"MorseLife Health System Inc. today announced a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve claims concerning the administration of COVID-19 vaccines on December 31, 2020. MorseLife strongly denies the allegations set forth by the government but chose to settle this matter to avoid the expense and distraction of protracted litigation. MorseLife's top priority is to promote and protect the health, safety and well-being of everyone in our community, and the staff of MorseLife, as well as the vice chairman and his brother, acted in the best interest of the community to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Importantly, any nursing home resident or staff member who wanted the vaccine and was eligible according to federal and state guidelines at that time received it free of charge. The resolution of this matter enables us to continue pursuing our mission and will have no impact on MorseLife's operations and programs."
In a news release, the Department of Justice said 567 of the 976 — or 58% — who were vaccinated through MorseLife at a clinic in December 2020 were not eligible for the shot.