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State Investigating How Many Long-term Care Workers Sought COVID Vaccine Exemptions From Embattled Doctor

COVID Vaccine First Responders
Ryan Caron King/Connecticut Public
Connecticut Public
HARTFORD, CT - January 13, 2021: A HealthCareworker vaccinates a Hartford firefighter at a clinic at the Connecticut Convention Center. (Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public)

State officials are trying to figure out how many workers across Connecticut’s licensed long-term care facilities were granted COVID-19 vaccine and mask exemptions by an embattled Durham physician who is accused of handing them out without reviewing or even knowing the patients who sought them.

In a memo to hundreds of nursing homes, assisted living centers and other facilities Monday, Public Health Commissioner Manisha Juthani and other top officials in the state health department directed those companies to turn over “any exemption form signed by Sue McIntosh, MD, related to vaccine requirements, the wearing of facial masks and/or COVID testing issued to any [long-term care facility] worker.” The order includes not only regular employees of those facilities, but also consultants, contractors, volunteers and students in training programs or who are affiliated with academic institutions.

The state Medical Examining Board on Friday agreed to temporarily suspend McIntosh’s medical license after she was accused of allowing people to mail her practice a self-addressed, stamped envelope to receive signed exemptions, C-HIT reported. The health department received an anonymous tip that McIntosh was distributing the exemptions to people she had never seen as patients.

The documents she circulated featured explanations of exemption criteria and applicable conditions, such as autoimmune disorders, cancers and other ailments.

Matthew Barrett, president and CEO of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities, said his organization has also sent a notice around to its 145 member nursing homes urging them to gather any applicable records. The forms must be submitted to the health department by Oct. 6.

Barrett said he does not know how many workers across the industry sought or received exemptions from McIntosh.

“I have no firsthand knowledge about the complaint that was made against the physician, and I really have no information … on how many instances that occurred,” he said.

To be granted a medical exemption, nursing home workers must obtain an attestation from a physician that says the exemption is medically necessary and provides an explanation of the employee’s condition. That document is submitted to nursing home management, which in turn decides whether to approve or deny an exemption. Managers at each facility are also responsible for reviewing and making decisions about religious exemptions.

Nursing home workers and employees at other long-term care facilities, including assisted living centers and residential care homes, were required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 27. Facilities that violate the state’s order face fines of up to $20,000 per day. Employees may sidestep the mandate by obtaining medical or religious exemptions.

A spokesman for the state’s public health department did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

McIntosh’s license is suspended until a hearing can be held on Oct. 5, C-HIT reported. After that, state health officials could issue a fine, recommend probation or take more serious steps, such as revoking her license.

It was not immediately clear if other health care facilities have received similar requests for records from the health department.

Officials with the Connecticut Hospital Association said Tuesday they are not aware of any state request for exemption forms signed by McIntosh, but they are reviewing it themselves with member hospitals.

“We will be examining with our members whether Dr. McIntosh has signed any exemption forms related to hospitals’ vaccine requirement,” Jill McDonald Halsey, a spokeswoman for CHA, said.