VENICE, Fla. (WFLA) – Seniors are raising questions about equity at state-run vaccine clinics across our area. The latest being in Lakewood Ranch where appointments at a pop-up clinic were limited to seniors in two zip codes.
8 On Your Side obtained an email showing residents in a southern Sarasota County subdivision got special access to a clinic in a completely different county.
The email sent to residents at Neal Communities’ Grand Palm subdivision in Venice aimed at filling slots for a pop-up clinic in Charlotte County. The clinic was organized to take place in Kings Gate, a gated neighborhood where Neal Communities also builds homes.
Some seniors living in the Venice subdivision told 8 On Your Side they thought the exclusive invite was ‘ridiculous’ and ‘unfair’.
Right across the street from Grand Palm is a RV park filled with hundreds of seniors including Gail Weiser. She and her 98-year-old mother have been on the county’s waiting list for weeks, waiting for their turn to get vaccinated.
Weiser was frustrated learning residents right across the street from her home received an exclusive invite to a clinic in a different county, but admits she’s not surprised.
“It is very annoying, but I think it is the way of the world now.. money talks,” said Weiser.
The selective-nature of the state run clinic has some concerned. Todd Brown owns a food truck in Venice that visits different RV parks around the community.
“I wouldn’t want my family to not get a shot because of the community they lived in. That is not quite fair,” said Venice business owner Todd Brown. “It is concerning There are so many people that are in need and have health issues that are more at risk. They should be first to get it no matter where they live,” he continued.
Charlotte County officials tell 8 On Your Side they had no involvement in the state-run clinic.
8 On Your Side contacted Neal Communities asking why residents outside Charlotte County were selected for the state-run site. We received this statement.
“We were asked by the Governor to help set up a vaccination site in Charlotte County. The vaccination rate in the county among the 65+ group was behind the state median. We mobilized in a very short period of time to vaccinate 3000 seniors. We are happy and proud to aid the state and support the Governor’s mission to vaccinate seniors in Florida.” – Neal Communities
Data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows Neal Communities has been an active donor in Republican Party politics. In the 2020 election cycle alone, people associated with the company contributed nearly $30,000 to the Republican National Committee.
Sarasota County Commissioner Ron Cutsinger says he was not aware Sarasota County residents were invited to the state-run clinic in Charlotte County.
“I was not made aware of it. As I understand it, those events were hosted by the State separately and apart from our County Health Department. We’ve been very clear and consistent on this issue – all our appointments have been scheduled from our existing registration system to be fair and equitable,” said Commissioner Cutsinger.
Sarasota County officials announced a state-run drive thru pop-up clinic that will take place at the Venice Municipal Airport Festival Grounds this weekend.
Sarasota County officials say the state will be using the county’s registration database to send out appointment notifications.
Appointments for the clinic will be scheduled in order of account number. Individuals who have already received an appointment notification for the Sarasota Square Mall, may NOT change locations, as these two vaccination clinics are separate events