Local health leaders changing vaccine clinics in effort to ease process; appointments won’t be needed
photo by: Ashley Golledge
Not only is an appointment for a COVID vaccine no longer as rare as a winning lottery ticket, but appointments soon won’t be required at all in Douglas County.
LMH Health next month will start hosting a five-day-per-week drive-thru clinic at the hospital that will allow people to get a vaccination without any advance appointment.
There is a simple reason vaccinations have gone from lotto to lots of them.
“We’re seeing that supply is now outpacing demand in Douglas County,” Brian Bradfield, associate vice president of ancillary services for LMH Health, told LMH Health trustees Wednesday morning.
As we’ve reported, county health officials have had difficulty in filling some vaccination appointments in recent weeks, and LMH board members were told Wednesday that some appointments have gone unfilled recently.
That shift in the environment has county health officials coming up with new plans to vaccinate the public and ending others. LMH leaders were told that April 27 and April 28 are scheduled to be the last days the county health department will host mass vaccination clinics at the Douglas County Fairgrounds.
Those clinics, which at their peak were vaccinating almost 700 people per hour, will be replaced with a smaller-scale but more frequent operation at the hospital. Current plans call for the new clinics to run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every weekday. The drive-thru clinic will be in the northwest corner of the LMH hospital parking lot, 325 Maine St.
The biggest change is that appointments won’t be required, although people can still make an appointment if they so choose.
“So, you can actually come in without an appointment five days per week as well,” Bradfield said.
The goal is to deliver 200 to 300 vaccinations per day, Bradfield said. The clinic, which will be run by Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health with the help of volunteers, will provide both dose-1 and dose-2 shots, with processes in place to ensure the second dose is delivered after the appropriate waiting period.
“We’re super excited,” Bradfield said of the new system. “It will be a smaller version of the mass vaccination clinic out at the fairgrounds, but hopefully it will help continue our push to vaccinate. I think one thing that will be important is just to continue education.”
Local health leaders do feel like they are encountering more people who are reluctant to get the vaccine. The new clinic is designed to help convince one type of reluctant vaccine patient: those rushed for time.
“We are trying to make it as convenient as possible to get vaccinations into people,” Sheryle D’Amico, vice president of physician enterprise, said.
But more outreach work is likely needed to convince other individuals to get the vaccine. Bradfield said that local health leaders were considering creating new brochures and other informational material, and that they were encouraging health care providers to have conversations with their patients about the vaccine. Bradfield said the hospital was also considering how it might be able to get information into the hands of LMH patients and visitors who have not yet received a vaccination.
Leaders also are doing outreach to some large employers in the area about bringing a mobile vaccination clinic to those workplaces to make it easier for employees to get the shot.
“We’re really looking to reach those harder-to-reach populations,” Bradfield said.
Other vaccination news shared at Wednesday’s meeting included:
• D’Amico said behind-the-scenes planning was underway for the day that people 12 years and older will be able to receive the Pfizer vaccine. D’Amico said there was some speculation in the health care world that a ruling could be made in May that would allow those younger people to get vaccinated. Currently, only people 16 and older are eligible for any of the vaccines.
• The county continues to be in a holding pattern on issuing Johnson & Johnson vaccines, which are sought after by some because they require only one dose to be effective. Federal health officials recommended earlier this month that providers pause in delivering the vaccine while concerns related to blood clotting in a small number of patients are examined. Bradfield said there have been some indications that more information could be coming on the Johnson & Johnson status later this week.
• D’Amico said hospital and public health officials were planning for the possibility that providing COVID vaccinations would be a long-term project. Vaccine experts are currently studying the likelihood that booster shots will be needed, perhaps annually, to keep the COVID vaccinations effective in most patients. D’Amico said the improvements that LMH made to the northwest part of its campus to host drive-thru clinics were done with that possibility in mind.
“We definitely have been thinking about how we deliver in large quantities in a safe and efficient manner,” she said. “I see that long into our future.”
• LMH leaders estimated the hospital has spent about $2 million thus far in 2021 on expenses directly related to the pandemic. However, LMH Health — when factoring in federal assistance it has received — did operate profitably during the first quarter. The nonprofit hospital posted revenues over expenses of about $3.8 million through March. That was better than the approximately $900,000 profit the hospital had budgeted to receive.
Hospital leaders have created a budget that assumes LMH will continue to see financial disruptions related to the pandemic through the first half of 2021, but that those financial costs will greatly subside in the second half of the year.
But hospital leaders noted that those projections were dependent on vaccinations in the county continuing to increase at a strong rate.
“There is still uncertainty around the pandemic,” said Deb Cartwright, chief financial officer of LMH Health. “We could see our vaccination efforts stumble and then have COVID variants undo a lot of the good work we have done.”