Covid-19

UMC Did Not Provide Beto O’Rourke Formal Authority To Collect Patient Information

On February 6, 2021, El Paso Matters reported that Beto O’Rourke and volunteers were going door to door on that day collecting information from south-side El Pasoans looking to get the Covid-19 vaccine. Like most cities, El Paso has been struggling with having enough doses of the vaccine for its residents wanting one. Access to technology has been one of the stumbling blocks for lower-income residents.

O’Rourke’s Powered By People PAC was leading the vaccine signups in El Paso and in Dallas. Powered By People is a federally registered PAC run by O’Rourke that engages voters for Democratic candidates. At the end of 2020, Powered by People had almost $250,000, according to financial reports.

Questions about O’Rourke’s use of his PAC for gathering vaccine names was questioned by Debbie Nathan on Medium and on Facebook.

Volunteering Controversy

According to a February 6, 2021 El Paso Times report, the O’Rourke PAC had “about 50 volunteers” registering individuals for the Covid-19 vaccine. The El Paso Times reported that O’Rourke’s volunteers were speaking to Segundo Barrio residents “over the age of 65 for the COVID-19 vaccine”. The Times’ report reported that the “residents will then be contacted by University Medical Center to schedule an appointment” for the vaccine.

O’Rourke told the El Paso Times that he “targeted” the neighborhood because of “the challenges they have in terms of transportation, internet, and getting signed up” for the vaccine.

The information collected by the political volunteers included “their names, birthdays, address, and social security” numbers. The information was to be provided to UMC.

Amy O’Rourke, Beto’s wife, told the El Paso Times that they had “partnered with UMC,” who wanted “to specifically target 79901.”

Debbie Nathan wrote on her Medium publication that the PAC’s volunteers were asking if the individuals they encountered wanted the vaccine, and “if they were registered to vote.”

According to Nathan, at the virtual county commissioners meeting on February 8, the county judge, Ricardo Samaniego, “revealed that it was he who’d introduce” the Beto O’Rourke plan to collect names to UMC. Nathan wrote that Samaniego referred to Cynthia Cano as the individual he was working with.

Nathan added on her Medium post that Samaniego said that he connected Cano to UMC chief executive officer Jacob Cintron and Brian Kennedy who runs the County’s coliseum.

El Paso Politics reviewed the archived copy of the county commissioners meeting for February 8 on Youtube. Our review noted that county judge Samaniego said that he “connected” the Powered by People group to Project Amistad. Project Amistad is a non-profit that is designated by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission as the “Managed Transportation Organization” for Texas Region 2, which includes El Paso. The non-profit serves the elderly and individuals with disabilities.

In reviewing the archived copy of the commissioners meeting we noted that Samaniego said that he “walked” Cano through the coliseum to show her how the County was vaccinating individuals. During the discussion about how Powered by People was coordinating with the City, Samaniego stated that “I’m a little blind to what they are doing at the City.” Samaniego added that he impressed upon Cano that their focus was on getting the “super seniors” signed up for the vaccine with UMC, adding that the transportation would be provided by Project Amistad.

Cynthia Cano

Cynthia Cano has a long history with Beto O’Rourke. In 2007, Cano was vice principal of the La Fe Preparatory School that O’Rourke’s wife started in El Paso’s Segundo Barrio. The preparatory school is a charter school. From there, Cano went to work for Beto’s congressional office.

According to the Daily Beast, Cynthia Cano was O’Rourke’s “road manager” during his campaign against Ted Cruz in 2019. NBC News titled her as O’Rourke’s “deputy campaign manager” for the senate seat against Cruz. Regardless of her official title, Cano was a significant part of O’Rourke’s campaign for Ted Cruz’ seat.

What Open Records Say

El Paso Politics filed several open records requests with the county commissioners and the county judge asking for information about their dealings with Powered By People, Beto O’Rourke and Cynthia Cano. We also filed requests with the University Medical Center of El Paso (UMC) and Brian Kennedy.

We asked for any communications, documents or any agreements between the government officials and O’Rourke’s team.

According to responses we received on February 19, 2021, commissioners Iliana Holguin, Carlos Leon, Carl Robinson and David Stout had “no responsive records” meeting our request.

County Judge Ricardo Samaniego provided two copies of text messages between himself and Cynthia Cano on February 22. The two text messages were dated January 25 and February 3.

According to the text message at 1:33 pm, it appears that Cynthia Cano was attempting to call Samaniego. Samaniego responded via text message asking if he could call her later. Cano responded via text message with, “Yes- thank you so much! This is Cynthia Cano from Beto O’Rourke’s team. We would like to help with Vaccine Outreach in the poorest zip codes in El Paso. Travis/Dallas county have done something similar.”

Cano asked for a few minutes to discuss her proposal with Samaniego.

Samaniego responded via text message that he was in commissioners court and that “Nichole my Sr. Policy Adv. Will reach out to you.”

In the second text message on February 3, Cano wrote “I wanted to thank you so much for your time and support! We will start canvassing this Saturday. I will report back to you on our progress.”

Samaniego responded with “Thank you! Please keep me posted I really enjoyed our partnership. We have some great members trying to make things the best we can for the community.”

We submitted an open records request to Brian Kennedy via his public email address at the El Paso Sports Commission. As of press time we have not received an acknowledgement to our open records request nor any responsive documents.

The University Medical Center

On February 24, 2021, the El Paso Politics received the response to our open records query from the University Medical Center of El Paso (UMC). We had asked for any “agreements created, adopted or reviewed” between UMC, Beto O’Rourke, Powered by People and Cynthia Cano.

We wanted to understand if there was a formal agreement between O’Rourke and UMC to collect demographic information to be used for a patient record. Patient records are generally confidential, however, in this case O’Rourke’s outreach had not yet created a patient record other than to signify that the individual was seeking the Covid-19 vaccine.

We also asked for “any emails, memorandum or documents” between UMC, Powered by People and Cynthia Cano.

UMC told us via their open records responses that there are no agreements in place between Powered by People and UMC to seek patients looking for the vaccine on behalf of UMC. As far we can tell there have been no formal discussions about creating a formal agreement to gather names on behalf of UMC.

However, there was email communications between Cynthia Cano and UMC officials starting on February 3.

The open records requests suggest that there was some verbal communication between UMC officials and Cynthia Cano about the patient outreach proposed by Powered By People at the beginning of February, possibly on the third.

In response to Cano’s request for collaboration, Lorena Navado Sosa, the Chief Administrative Officer for UMC sent Cano two forms that UMC was “requesting” to “be completed on each individual that is requesting a vaccine.” Sosa sent the two Word forms to Cano via email on February 4.

The first form was titled Pre-Registration Form: Covid-19 Vaccine.

The second form was titled Covid-19 Vaccine Registration Form.

The second form included a request for a social security number in addition to the patient’s demographic details, including insurance information such as the insurer and insurance identification number.

The request for a social security number has been controversial because of the implications for individuals that do not have one. Both the federal government and the State of Texas have said that citizenship or legal status is not an impediment to the vaccine.

Questions About Lack of Agreement

The lack of a formal agreement between UMC and Powered by People raises questions about the use of personal identifying information and patient details and how they are handled.

Powered by People states that it uses volunteers for its outreach program. What training and security measures are in place for handling patient information is unknown. Additionally, it remains unknown how the information about those seeking the Covid-19 vaccine is queued up into the City’s vaccine distribution platform.

Who becomes responsible for ensuring that those that submitted their details to the Powered by People volunteers are added to the waiting list and more importantly, who ensures the security of the patient’s details like date of birth and social security numbers?

Has UMC given formal authority to Powered by People to act on their behalf? If so, does UMC carry the liability? If not, who is liable for the possible misuse of personally identifiable information or if a patient does not receive the needed vaccine because of a failure to convert the paper request to the electronic version the City of El Paso uses to deliver the doses?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) imposes substantial requirements on health providers to ensure that patient information remains private. It limits who and how personal medical information and identifying information is handled and secured.

In 2011, UCLA paid $865,500 to settle a HIPAA claim.

El Paso Politics will continue to investigate these questions and report as more information becomes available.

Article updated on March 2, 2021: Brian Kennedy responded to our open records request on March 2. Kennedy stated that he has no responsive documents meeting our request. Kennedy added that “Ms Cano, Judge Samaniego and Jacob Cintron came for a tour of the Coliseum” and asked him “about the logistics of moving people in and out efficiently.”

References:

  1. Aaron E. Martinez, “Beto O’Rourke, UMC partner to register El Pasoans in Segundo Barrio for COVID-19 vaccine,” El Paso Times, February 6, 2021.
  2. Debbie Nathan, “One official’s ‘no’ to Beto’s vaxx-registration scheme,” Medium – Debbie Nathan, February 8, 2021.
  3. Marlow Stern, “Exclusive: Beto O’Rourke Apologizes to Campaign Staff for Being a ‘Giant Asshole’,” Daily Beast, May 28, 2019.
  4. Alex Seitz-Wald, “Beto O’Rourke drops f-bombs, snaps at staff, stresses out in revealing new documentary,” NBC News, March 9, 2019.
  5. Abby Livingston, “Charter schools are a complicated issue for Beto O’Rourke. His Wife, Amy O’Rourke, founded one.” Texas Tribune, April 4, 2019.
  6. Official responses to multiple Texas Public Information Act requests filed on February 8, 2021 by Martín Paredes.
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We are on a mission to deliver the news and information important to you. Information that no one else is covering. We believe that public policy is grounded on an informed citizenry. We provide information based on analytical analysis that is well-sourced to allow readers to understand the policy decisions that affects their lives. We keep our reporting open to give everyone access to our reports. We are self-funded. This allows us to be independent and we are not influenced by stakeholders on how and what we report.

Help us to keep this resource available to everyone. Your support allows us to fund the site and pay for the research we use to bring important topics to your attention. Support our project by making a small donation today.

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We are on a mission to deliver the news and information important to you. Information that no one else is covering. We believe that public policy is grounded on an informed citizenry. We provide information based on analytical analysis that is well-sourced to allow readers to understand the policy decisions that affects their lives. We keep our reporting open to give everyone access to our reports. We are self-funded. This allows us to be independent and we are not influenced by stakeholders on how and what we report.

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1 reply »

  1. This conduct is exactly like BETO…he is not honest, uses the Mexican American voters for his own benefit, and presents himself as a friend of the poor when in fact he’s a spoiled rich kid who has money only because he married the money and like his father has never earned an honest living in his life, and now is looking for a way to get (elected) to another government job.

    Liked by 1 person

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