A group of anti-violence activists rallied in front of Loretto Hospital, 645 S. Central Ave. on April 1 to demand a federal investigation and a forensic audit of the hospital’s vaccination practices. 

“Ain’t no looking the other way! The people of Austin deserve the truth,” said Andre Smith, CEO of Chicago Against Violence. “The people of Austin deserve the truth. They deserve the vaccine.” 

The Austin safety net hospital has been embroiled in scandal after Block Club Chicago reported that its leadership, particularly former COO Anosh Ahmed and current CEO George Miller, improperly vaccinated people who were not eligible. Block Club reported that Ahmed improperly vaccinated Trump Tower hotel workers while Miller improperly vaccinated members of his suburban church. 

“The people in Austin should be the priority in the Austin community,” said activist Tio Hardiman, the president of Violence Interrupters. 

“I lived in Austin for 20 years and I respect Loretto Hospital, but I do not respect the fact that they did not service the people the way they should have,” he said. “Vaccinating people at Trump tower makes no sense. It’s a ludicrous decision.” 

Ahmed resigned last month while Miller has apologized in a Facebook post and was placed on a two-week suspension. The hospital is currently conducting an internal investigation, but the Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who tapped the hospital to start administering the first COVID-19 vaccinations late last year, has cut the hospital’s vaccination supply. 

State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (8th) resigned his seat on Loretto’s board on March 23, citing his dissatisfaction with how his board colleagues handled the disciplinary process of the hospital’s administrators. 

Eric Russell, an activist and president of the Tree of Life Justice League, 

“We are outraged as a community at the politics of pandemic,” he said. “The politics of the pandemic have once again treated Black and Brown people like second-class citizens.” 

The activists’ press conference is just the latest demonstration of dissatisfaction among West Side stakeholders. On March 24, Mary Gardner and Women of the 7th Congressional District started a Change.org petition that called for Miller’s removal as president and CEO.

After the press conference, Russell said he and his fellow activists believe that vaccine favoritism was widespread and that the revelations about Loretto are only “the tip of the iceberg,” which is why the group is calling for a federal investigation and forensic audit. 

“We feel that there needs to be a thorough investigation and an independent investigation,” he said. “We want Miller to step down, because it happened on his watch.”

Russell also said that Ford shouldn’t have resigned, since he would have done more good addressing the problem as a board member. 

“We want him to take a stand and do his part to clean up this mess,” Russell said.

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...