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ADHS admits testing fallout with Pima County was factor in initial rejection of FEMA vaccine site

ADHS reverses decision on federal vaccine site after FEMA letter calls out state's credibility

PHOENIX —

Last Friday, the Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ announced that the state will now allow Pima County to work independently with FEMA to establish a Community Vaccine Center (CVC), but there are strings attached.  

FEMA 'concerned' with Dr. Cara Christ mischaracterization of offer for federally supported COVID-19 vaccination site

The States reversal may be a change of heart, but that changcame only after FEMA’s Acting Regional Administrator Tammy Littrell expressed in a letter, concern with how Christ characterized conversations between the state and federal officials.  

The Pima County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the invitation for FEMA to set-up a federally run and funded vaccination site that would provide predominately Latino communities with access to the vaccine.  

ADHS initially rejected the offer, stating that “the state does not need assistance in standing up additional fixed or mobile resources”. Dr. Christ also told reporters a CVC would not allow for state oversight and would have to provide significant staffing and resources to operate.  

But according to Littrell’s letter, FEMA would provide an additional 8-week supply of the COVID-19 vaccine, clinical and administrative staff, and 100% federal funding.  

Now, the state has authorized Pima County and FEMA to move forward with the site if it does not reduce existing supply of vaccine to the state or impact state vaccine resources and operations.   

Dr. Christ responded to Littrell’s concern with another letter doubling down on the state’s reasons for initially rejecting the offer.  

Pima County isn’t holding back about it's clash with the state. 

Following the announcement, the county’s tweet thanked Gov. Ducey for allowing the FEMA-supported POD. On behalf of the Board of Supervisors, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said, “The county will resume its planning with FEMA to begin administering these vaccines to County residents as soon as possible.”  

But Huckelberry also addressed his own concern with Dr. Christ and the state. 

“I will be responding directly to Dr. Christ about her unfounded reservations and unwarranted criticisms expressed in her letter,” to FEMA. “Pima County has been operating multiple vaccination PODs since December without incident and with little to no state assistance,” said Huckelberry.  

On Sunday, Pima County Supervisor and Physician Dr. Matt Heinz told CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield the FEMA site will improve the state’s challenges with “vaccine equity.” 

In a statement to 12 News, Dr. Heinz said:  

“I was pleased to learn Friday morning that Pima County will now be permitted to work with FEMA directly to set up two federal vaccination sites in my district to serve low income and predominantly Latino neighborhoods. This will help Pima County to achieve herd immunity weeks sooner and therefore allow us to reopen the economy much earlier to the great benefit of all county residents. The additional infusion of 250,000 or more vaccine doses will also make it easier for people to find appointments to get vaccinated once these two sites start operating in early April." 

Testing reimbursement fallout leads to state's initial rejection of FEMA offer  

Along with ADHS and Pima County’s clash over the federal POD, the county wants the state to reimburse for COVID-19 testing. 

The state received more than $400 million in funding through the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for testing. In February, ADHS announced it would release $100 million to counties for testing costs and allocated $14.4 million to Pima County.  

The state is not reimbursing the county for $7.6 million in testing from Dec. 21 to Jan. 15, leading to a series of letters asking the state to pay up.  

In a March 16 letter to the CDC , Pima County Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen asked for guidance and assistance in addressing the state.  

Credit: 12 News

That same day, Dr. Christ responded to the county’s concerns but reiterated the state would not reimburse for testing. 

“I recognize and appreciate Pima County’s support of free testing to all residents, but reiterate the fact that ADHS will not be providing additional funding beyond what we previously discussed.”  

Credit: 12 News

During last Friday’s press conference, Dr. Christ told reporters that the state took issue with the county testing without approval and requesting for reimbursement and it factored into the initial decision to reject FEMA’s offer.

“The state does not have the capacity to refund the county for those specific activities,” said Christ. “That heightens our concern when we look at them operating a very expensive site.”  

FEMA’s letter to the state addressed Christ’s concerns of funding and reiterated the federal POD would be fully funded.  

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