Mayor Andre Sayegh’s administration will have to entirely run the vaccination site at International High School after a dispute with the school district. Previously, school nurses and security were working with municipal health workers to vaccinate thousands of people.
Municipal officials said the district pulled its nurses and security staff from the site on Wednesday. They had been working side by side with municipal health workers over the past two months.
School officials have raised concerns about liability and wanted payment for deploying their personnel at the site. Both sides met on Tuesday to sort out the issues.
“Yesterday, the City of Paterson and Paterson Public Schools agreed that the city would continue to run its vaccination program at International High School using its own staff and that the district would continue to provide the facility at no charge,” said Paul Brubaker, spokesman for the Paterson Public Schools, on Wednesday. “District administrators are very appreciative of the city administrators’ agreeing to pay the district for services rendered at the vaccine site by district personnel, pending City Council approval.”
The school district wants the municipal government to pay more than $200,000, according to officials from the city and the district. The City Council may oppose paying the full sum.
“This is an example of the mayor getting bullied once again. First by the county representatives, now by the school board,” said councilman Michael Jackson. He is referring to Sayegh’s early misstep in the pandemic when he decided against setting up a Covid-19 vaccine site for residents in favor of the Passaic County site at William Paterson University, which was inaccessible to many residents.
Sayegh did not respond to a call for comment.
Brubaker said both sides were “more comfortable” with municipal employees working at the site “as a better way to mitigate any potential liability.”
School board president Kenneth Simmons said the Board of Education will consider a facility use agreement between the city and the district next Monday. He said as part of that agreement, the city will have to provide liability insurance.
“We were being generous in helping out,” said Simmons. “I don’t think anyone anticipated that we would be doing that for this long.”
Simmons said the district’s nurses, including its chief nurse, have been working at the vaccination site rather than carrying out their regular duties at the district. When told schools are closed, Simmons said, “You still have athletic programs going on and you still have people in buildings.”
The district tried to work out an agreement with the city for more than a month to no avail, according to school officials. Getting nowhere, school officials threatened to pull their nurses and security personnel from the vaccination site, which finally got the attention of the Sayegh administration.
Municipal officials said the city is considering moving out of International High School altogether. A site being considered is the fire headquarters on McBride Avenue, fire chief Brian McDermott confirmed.
Health officer Paul Persaud, who has been running the vaccination site, worried about the disruption a move will cause.
“Leaving IHS is of great concern to me because of the immediate public health impact. The location is the best and we have worked hard to make it a well-functioning Point of Dispensing for COVID-19 vaccines. I have serious concerns about moving away from IHS at this point in time because we have the monumental task ahead of vaccinating our residents,” said Persaud.
Persaud said the Board of Health and the Board of Education have a “long history” of working together during public health emergencies.
“We did it during H1N1 and over the years in numerous drills in preparation for public health emergencies,” said Persaud. “I am hopeful that our partnership with the school district continues and the health and wellbeing of the residents are prioritized.”
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