Health officials under fire and rightly so [Opinion]

Residents are frustrated and furious over the second failure of the Department of Public Health’s appointment system for COVID-19 vaccines. Residents are putting the blame squarely at the feet of public health officials.

Late last week, health officials announced that the county appointment website for residents to get a reserved slot at an upcoming COVID-19 vaccine clinic would soon change. This was in response to technical issues experienced Thursday as thousands of Riverside County residents attempted to make appointments for vaccine.

RivCo Health Officials Fail, Again [Opinion]A technical issue in the website code was uncovered at that time of opening 3,900 appointments for weekend vaccine clinics. Unfortunately, when many residents attempted to visit the appointment website, they saw a timeout screen.

But after Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari publicly promised to fix the website and the 2-1-1 phone system, we were hopeful. Our hopes were dashed when the second rollout was as controversial as the first. The system crashed again and so has Saruwatari’s promises.

Saruwatari promised to open up 10,000 more appointments. She said the website was fixed and ready for a second rollout.

The rollout of the repaired website was again troublesome for both seniors and those family members  trying desperately to get loved ones vaccinated.

Residents flocked to Twitter and expressed disappointment, outrage, and called for resignations of Riverside County officials.

Acting County Executive Officer Juan Perez blamed an “outside vendor” for the problems in his statement. We accepted that explanation as Perez is a person of integrity. He’s also a Civil Engineer who understands complex challenges.

That may be the case but the Department of Public Health Director Kim Suwartari selected that vendor. She and her staff are responsible for this failure. We can no longer blame an outside vendor.

County Supervisors have avoided blame for the vaccine scheduling failure. Many frustrated residents are worried that the county’s failure to correct problems with the website could lead to further illnesses and even death. The board’s chair, Karen Spiegel,  has yet to make a public statement or reassure the public the systems are being fixed.

Suwartari and Kaiser make a combined $650,000 a year off taxpayers. It is reasonable to expect that programs they lead work. At this point these two have failed to correct the website issues — and the 2-1-1 phone system isn’t any better.

We urge county Supervisors Jeff Hewitt and V. Manuel Perez to hold Kim Saruwatari, director of Public Health and Dr. Cameron Kaiser responsible and find someone who can run a program that works to enroll our elderly and others who are desperate for the initial vaccination and the follow up one.

It was former President Jimmy Carter who displayed a plaque on his Oval Office desk that stated, “The Buck Stops Here.” It’s time for county executives to step up and shoulder responsibility.



Image Sources

  • Failure: Shutterstock