Local leaders expecting authorization on Phase 2 COVID vaccinations any day now; LMH planning for 65 and older vaccination effort

photo by: Ashley Golledge

A sign points to LMH Health's drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination center on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020.

Updated story: Douglas County announces it will start vaccinating people 65 and older; appointments for first clinic fill up in minutes

The process for vaccinating a larger group of Douglas County residents, including the elderly and teachers, may win key approvals in the next day or two, leaders at Lawrence Memorial Hospital were told Wednesday.

LMH leaders have begun putting together a pair of rapid response teams to begin delivering COVID-19 vaccinations to people beyond local health care workers, to whom officials have been providing vaccines for the last few weeks. But leaders were cautioned that an exact date for broader scale vaccinations to begin isn’t yet known. But official word from the state to begin the process is expected soon.

“We are anticipating in the next day or two for the state to announce that we will be moving from Phase 1 to Phase 2,” Brian Bradfield, associate vice president of ancillary services for LMH Health, told the hospital’s board of directors.

That does not necessarily mean people in Phase 2 — the elderly, school teachers, grocery store workers and others — will start to get vaccinations in the next couple of days. Rather, the state’s approval will mean Douglas County can start delivering vaccinations to the broader group of people once they are done vaccinating health care workers and others in Phase 1, George Diepenbrock, a spokesman for Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health, said.

Bradfield estimated that LMH may be done vaccinating that first group of health workers within the next seven to 10 days. He also estimated that the hospital should have 500 to 600 doses of vaccine remaining once the health workers have received their vaccinations.

All told, that means it is possible some limited vaccinations of Phase 2 residents could begin in the next week to 10 days, but no one was promising that timeline on Wednesday.

“When there are more opportunities for public, open clinics, we will make an announcement about who will qualify and how to sign up,” Diepenbrock said.

Hospital board members, though, were given a glimpse into the planning that is underway to deliver the vaccine to thousands of residents. Bradfield said the hospital has identified about 16,000 people who are 65 and older who have been patients of LMH. Bradfield indicated the hospital likely will focus on vaccinating that group of people as part of LMH’s efforts in Phase 2. Bradfield noted that LMH will be only one of several organizations providing vaccinations in Phase 2. He said Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health will be leading the effort. The health department and other providers may focus on vaccinating other groups of people while the hospital focuses on the 65-and-older population.

Bradfield said LMH was developing two rapid response teams comprising 20 people each. Members of that team will be prepared to drop what they are doing and begin giving vaccines upon new arrivals of vaccine doses.

“That will allow us to be a little more nimble and act quickly when doses arrive,” Bradfield said.

Bradfield also said planning for mass drive-thru vaccination clinics was underway. Diepenbrock confirmed that the health department would be operating a drive-thru vaccination clinic this weekend. It is not open to the general public, but rather will be delivering the second dose of vaccine to frontline health workers — primarily emergency workers — who received their first dose in December. Diepenbrock said the department was choosing to deliver those doses via drive-thru in order to learn more about how those operations work.

“It is definitely a test for the future,” he said.

LMH board members also were told that COVID case numbers at the hospital have stabilized over the last two weeks. Staff members also acknowledged the number of cases have not spiked the way once expected after the holiday season.

“I think that means we have done a really great job in Douglas County of social distancing and wearing our masks over the holiday,” Traci Hoopingarner, chief nursing officer for LMH Health, said.

Current models for the next 14 days project the number of COVID patients at the hospital to remain below 20. In addition, hospital leaders said the number of non-COVID patients in the hospital also was down significantly from historical averages.

That is because the flu has largely taken the season off in Douglas County, thus far. LMH President and CEO Russ Johnson said the flu often resulted in 70 to 80 patients for the hospital, while this year only one flu patient been at LMH. Johnson said masks and social distancing were clearly playing a role in stopping the spread of the flu. Johnson openly wondered whether such data would create a push for people to wear masks and to social distance in future flu seasons, even after the COVID crisis has abated.

“I think that is a truly startling statistic that has implications about all kinds of things, but certainly about public health and the effectiveness of masking and distancing,” he said. “Maybe we don’t want to pay that price in the future, though.”


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