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Coronavirus

Maryland using emergency contract for COVID vaccine rollout staffing, acting health secretary says

A Maryland state agency has entered into an emergency contract with Hagerty Consulting, a business management firm, to assist with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, the state acting health secretary confirmed Monday.

It is at least the third emergency contract disclosed in recent weeks that the state has entered into over the past three months to aid with the immunization campaign.

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Dennis R. Schrader did not specify the amount of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency’s contract with Hagerty, but said the advisory group had been assisting with staffing at the vaccination sites.

“By contrast, we spent probably $600 million on [personal protective equipment], so what we’re spending now on vaccine pales in comparison,” Schrader told lawmakers at a virtual state Senate Vaccine Oversight Workgroup meeting.

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He said as many as 10,000 individuals had been deployed to work on the vaccination program in all.

Schrader on Monday touted the vaccine rollout’s success; at least 1.9 million shots had been administered over the past 14 weeks, he said, with much more to come over the next several weeks as more doses of the three authorized vaccines flow into states from the federal government.

The contract also, at least partially, helps satisfy some lawmakers’ questions about how the state has organized the immunization rollout. Several state senators have called on Schrader to release more information about the decision-makers behind the vaccine allocation.

They also have called for more transparency, as racial and geographic disparities persist in the vaccine data, and many still do not have access to shots.

Spokespeople from Hagerty and the state of Maryland did not respond Monday evening to requests for comment about the specifics of the contract.

State Sen. Clarence Lam, a Democratic member of the vaccine oversight committee, said the Hagerty contract could be worth as much as $17.5 million, a figure not immediately confirmed by the state.

Lawmakers and elected officials previously expressed concerns about the state’s use of emergency contracts, arguing they can lead to higher costs and lower value. The state is spending as much as $46 million on contracts with consulting firms Ernst & Young and Digital Mobile Innovations, which are providing support services for supply chain management and the state’s appointment booking call center, respectively.

In a Thursday letter, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat, called on state lawmakers to appoint an independent commission to conduct an audit of all state and federal dollars that have been spent on relief for the coronavirus pandemic.

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“I believe we urgently need this independent commission to monitor and investigate the use of such large sums of taxpayer dollars to ensure that the public treasury is protected in the future and accounted for in the past,” Franchot, the state’s top financial officer, said in a letter.

Schrader, on Monday, said several states had entered into contracts with accounting and health care firms — Ernst & Young, included — to understand the sophisticated supply chain processes inherent in vaccine distribution.

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“They’re helping us where we can get value,” Schrader said of the state’s contracts.

On Monday, health officials also sent lawmakers more information about the contracts with Ernst & Young.

In addition to supply chain management and forensic accounting, Ernst & Young’s responsibilities include providing “immediate initial staffing and technical consulting services,” including information technology, planning and data analytics workers; offering recommendations to senior leadership about how to improve workflow; and providing an “end-to-end” assessment of the program.

The Maryland Board of Public Works, which approves such state spending, will review the Ernst & Young and DMI contracts March 24.

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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who sits on the board, has defended the use of such contracts, saying Ernst & Young, for example, has been “earning their keep.” The company had helped the state identify “potentially tens of thousands of doses” that officials did not know they had received from the federal government, Hogan said.

Franchot and Maryland Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, a Democrat, are the other two members of the three-person board.

Baltimore Sun reporter Meredith Cohn contributed to this article.


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