Sentara apologizes to minister for its handling of vaccination appointment

By Bridget Manley, publisher

After Sentara RMH turned away Christina Rivera from a vaccination appointment nearly two weeks ago, the hospital administration has since apologized, rescheduled her vaccination and will use the situation as part of diversity training for staff.  

Rivera, part of the senior lead ministry team at the Church of the Larger Fellowship, had signed up for a vaccination through a Virginia Department of Health website and showed up at the hospital at the appointed time she was given. But after hospital staff turned her away, she said three security officers prepared to escort her out of the hospital. Rivera, who is Latina, wrote a blog post describing her experience, which sparked discussion across social media about equity and racism in healthcare. 

Doug Moyer, president of Sentara RMH Medical Center, reached out to Rivera by phone late last week, and offered Rivera a full apology for her experience. Moyer also told Rivera that Sentara was ready to reschedule her vaccine. 

Rivera received her first dose at the Rockingham County fairgrounds Saturday afternoon, as part of a large vaccination clinic for people in the 1b group

Moyer, along with Iris Lundy, Sentara’s director of health equity, were on the call Friday, Feb. 5. Rivera said both of them fully listened to her experience.

Rivera said Moyer’s apology was sincere, and he apologized for the hospital denying her the vaccine and for having security called to escort her out. 

“It felt really good, because he didn’t use any of the ‘if’ language that I’ve come to expect of corporations that tried to protect themselves,” Rivera said.  “Like, ‘we’re sorry if you felt this way’ or, you know, ‘if that had to happen.’”

She said Moyer was direct and sincere. 

“There wasn’t any hedging,” she said. “It was just … flat out ‘this was wrong’…So I definitely felt very relieved. I felt like we could have an honest conversation about accountability from that point forward.”

Christina Rivera received her vaccination at Sentara’s invitation after hospital staff escorted her out of the hospital the first time she showed up for a vaccination appointment. (Photo courtesy of Christina Rivera)

Sentara issued a statement Wednesday to The Citizen about the conversation saying, “anytime someone expresses a concern with our organization we feel it is important to respond to better understand the situation.”  

The statement confirmed Moyer and Lundy apologized for the way Rivera was treated and “for the miscommunication that had taken place surrounding her incorrectly receiving an email inviting her to sign up for the vaccine.”

Sentara had agreed to vaccinate health care workers and first responders that came into contact with Sentara patients. But a processing error between the Virginia Department of Health and Sentara led to some people receiving vaccination appointments even though they weren’t specifically health care workers. 

Rivera, who visits with patients and their families as part of her ministry work, was one of those who received the appointment confirmation as a result of the processing error. She had signed up on the Virginia Department of Health website and entered her age, occupation and health. When she received her appointment, she said she was excited. She received appointment reminders all the way to up to the time of her scheduled appointment. 

She said she was honest about her occupation and had no idea there were errors on the health department and Sentara’s end that allowed her to qualify for the vaccination appointment. 

When Rivera arrived for her scheduled appointment, the staff member working the vaccination check-in did not let her in and refused to check her appointment confirmation notifcations before then having Rivera escorted out by security. 

Rivera said during the call Friday she brought up the “cross-cultural competency of [Sentara’s] healthcare workers.” She said calling security on Black and brown people showed a lack of cultural competency for a gatekeeper of healthcare. 

“That had me very concerned, that there is a lacking in training, lacking in even understanding that there should be training,” Rivera said. “That difference has a direct outcome on the health disparities that we see in our communities. You can draw a straight line.” 

Sentara formed a Health Equity Division in 2019, which Lundy led, with the goal “to identify and remove barriers so people can receive the care they need.” 

With Rivera’s permission, the hospital will use her experience in the hospital’s diversity and inclusion training. She said she is pleased the hospital will use her experience to ensure something similar doesn’t happen again. 

“We were happy to be able to hear more from Ms. Rivera about her experience and are sorry for the way she felt she was treated at Sentara RMH,” the hospital’s statement said. “One of our commitments is to always treat you with dignity, respect, and compassion. While our priority focus right now is getting vaccines to people in need, we will be looking at ways to integrate lessons learned from this event into on-going training for staff.”

While Rivera said she is relieved about the outcome for her, she remains concerned about the inequity in health care. 

“It’s really frustrating to know that it would take this level of intervention for one brown person to get vaccinated,” Rivera said. “And I’m glad that this worked out and I’m glad that the people who need to know about it know about it. But it took, you know, 3,500 views on my Facebook video and a news article to come out for this outcome.”

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