Editorial: In a pandemic, trust is key 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, issues of equity that highlight the disparity among different groups of Americans, especially across the socio-economic strata, have come under the spotlight again and again.   

Athletes and politicians received access to testing before it was widely available to the public. Experimental treatments believed to reduce hospitalization have been, in large part, reserved for the wealthy and powerful and have not been made available to the average patient. And now it plays out again as life-saving vaccines are beginning to be distributed.   

This week, news media around the state exposed some flagrant decisions from top healthcare administrators that allowed donors and retired, former employees access to the vaccine under the guise of testing a registration system. That same company this week also stood by its decision to vaccinate its entire 22,000person workforce, including those who do not come in direct contact with patients and those who have been working from home since the pandemic began. The organization, MaineHealth, also admitted to providing vaccinations to out-of-state contractors even though the Maine Center for Disease Control has repeatedly said that vaccine doses are only for Mainers. Even if people happen to live on the border of Maine and receive their health care here, doses, which are determined for each state based on population, are for residents only.   

The answers that MaineHealth’s chief executive gave to Portland Press Herald’s Bill Nemitz were unapologetic and further exposed the inequity that immunologists feared could happen as vaccines were made available.   

At Mount Desert Island Hospital, its registration software was tested by the actual front-line healthcare works who would be receiving their first doses of the vaccine. A few weeks ago, hospital CEO Chrissy Maguire said that she was aiming for a transparent process and so far that seems to be the case.   

As we’ve learned during the last year, messaging is important. Healthcare organizations have urged people to follow the CDC guidelines to reduce virus transmission and to keep hospitals from becoming overrun with sick patients.   

For the most part, Mainers have heeded the guidelines.   

We also learned from our mothers at a very early age that ‘actions speak louder than words,’ so it especially concerning when those same organizations that urge us to follow guidelines created to keep the collective population safe then flaunt those guidelines by allowing non-eligible groups to hop the line.   

These actions, on some level, amount to a breach of public trust and an abuse of power.   

In a pandemic, trust is key. We’re up against a virus we cannot see, and health care 

officials are asking the public to trust them as they administer a vaccine that some people are hesitant to take.   

Trust is a two-way street and, so far, some of Maine’s healthcare systems have failed the public.   

There must be consequences for those egregious actions and public trust must be restored.   

We urge all healthcare facilities to follow the CDC guidelines and to ensure that equity is brought into the decision-making process at all levels of the organization.   

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