Friday, May 26, 2023

Boca Regional Upholds Vaccine Mandates & is Amazon Fresh Coming?

Though some health care companies have dropped COVID-19 vaccine mandates for employees in the last few weeks or never had them, the owner of Boca Raton Regional Hospital is sticking with its requirement.

Baptist Health South Florida, which enacted its policy last fall, faced a choice. The U.S. Supreme Court let stand the Biden Administration’s vaccine requirement for companies that receive Medicare or Medicaid contracts. Most of Boca Regional’s patients are on Medicare.

Last fall, however, the Florida Legislature essentially prohibited such requirements by offering numerous exemptions that would have been time-consuming to enforce. That action caused Delray Beach to end its requirement that employees get vaccinated or tested weekly.

Here is the policy statement from Baptist Health:

“The Supreme Court recently upheld federal guidelines requiring COVID-19 vaccination for all on-site healthcare workers. All employees who work on-site at any Baptist Health facility need to be vaccinated or have an approved exemption.

“All final candidates for positions within Baptist Health who will be working on-site must also be vaccinated for COVID-19 (either single dose, or at least first dose of a two-dose series) or have an approved medical or religious exemption prior to beginning their employment.”

Baptist Health, a non-profit that also owns Bethesda Hospital East in Boynton Beach and Bethesda Hospital West, acted later than some companies but reached the same conclusion: the requirement works. Jackson Health System in Miami, which each COVID-19 surge has hit hard, required vaccinations last August.

Tenet HealthCare, a publicly traded company based in Dallas, owns West Boca Medical Center and Delray Medical Center. Tenet announced in January that it would not follow the Biden administration’s requirement.

Gov. DeSantis, who opposes vaccine mandates and named a vaccine skeptic to be Florida’s surgeon general, does not intend to enforce the requirement. “In Florida, what we said was, nobody should be denied earning a living based on these jabs,” DeSantis said. “That’s your choice. It’s a private choice. It is not something the government should be forcing.”

COVID-19 has killed more than 3,000 health care workers.

Delray disparity study


Apparently, Delray Beach will conduct a disparity study after all.

Last October, after nearly a year of work, the city commission was set to choose a consultant for the study. It would determine whether the city’s contracting process is unfair to minority- and women-owned businesses. If the study showed that, the city would seek ways to end the unfairness.

A staff committee had ranked the applicants. The top choice was an Atlanta firm with a good track record. But the commission majority, led by Mayor Shelly Petrolia, suddenly decided against awarding the contract. City Manager Terrence Moore said he would bring the matter back for consideration of options other than a study.

It came back at the Feb. 8 workshop meeting. This time, Petrolia embraced the idea of a study. She called it “the right thing to do” for companies that “do not even get a bite at the apple.” A study would help to “correct wrongs.”

The comments clearly surprised Commissioner Ryan Boylston, who last fall had been the most supportive of conducting a study. Petrolia said Boylston “did me a favor” by saying what he had intended to say.

Petrolia claimed that she opposed the study five months ago because the cost was too high. Perhaps, the mayor wondered, Delray Beach could share costs with another city or cities doing similar studies.

City Attorney Lynn Gelin pointed out the obvious: Every city—and thus every study—is unique. Trying to split costs could produce a faulty study. She also cautioned commissioners against “sticker shock,” reminding them that the two applicants last fall had been the low bidders.

Things ended somewhat inconclusively. A study still seems likely, but Petrolia—after calling for one—suggested that Delray Beach is too small for a credible study, even though the bidders last fall obviously considered the city a candidate. Moore said he would consider the “direction” he had received and bring back the matter for a third time.

Amazon Fresh grocery store coming to Boca?

Grocery store
photo by Oleg Magni

Though the developers won’t confirm it, multiple news reports suggest that an Amazon Fresh grocery store will soon open in Uptown Boca. That’s the mix-used development on Glades Road just east of State Road 7.

Amazon already has a presence in the crowded local grocery market. In 2017, the company bought Whole Foods, which has an outlet at University Commons near Glades Road and Interstate 95. Analysts wondered if the company was creating competition for itself when it started Amazon Fresh. Apparently, it wasn’t.

Industry watchers have found little crossover between Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh customers. Under Amazon, prices at Whole Foods have dropped from 20 percent above most chain grocers to about 10 percent. Those prices led critics to call Whole Foods “Whole Paycheck.”

Elsewhere Amazon has brought curbside pickup and delivery to both stores. Analysts note that the company can supply Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods from the same network. Such cost-cutting helps in a high-volume, low-margin business.

It all means more choices for shoppers in and around Boca Raton whose menu already includes Publix, Fresh Market, Trader Joe’s, Sprouts and Aldi. Meanwhile, Delray Beach still waits for a chain grocer as part of a project in the food desert of West Atlantic Avenue.


Boca Raton Tri-Rail station. (Photo by Aaron Bristol)

I wrote last week about former Boca Raton Mayor Steven Abrams, who’s now the executive director of Tri-Rail. The agency’s board meets Friday, with Abrams’ status on the agenda after criticism from one board member about problems with Tri-Rail’s Miami station. At one point, Abrams had offered to resign.

I wrote that Abrams had asked about a severance, but his contract doesn’t allow it. Abrams told me that a severance is possible only if “received in connection with the board ending my contract for convenience, not a resignation.” In civil law, ending a contract for convenience allows neither side to be found in default.

So when the nine board members meet, Abrams said, “It will be in their hands. I will express my wishes them them prior to the meeting, and, hopefully, they will be amenable.”

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Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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