The process to get the COVID-19 vaccine from Sanford Health‘s Sioux Falls hub out to its rural hospitals and clinics is a massive undertaking.
Within the first two weeks the vaccine was available, leaders from smaller communities outside of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, picked up their allocated boxes of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to distribute to health care workers in their towns.
“It’s just a moment of pride. I’m just so proud of all of our teams and how we’ve come together,” Alyssa Howard told Sanford Health News.
It’s a team effort
Howard is the pharmacy director for rural locations in South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa on the southern half of Sanford’s service area.
“I’m proud of our organization for the fact that they value and they prioritize rural,” Howard explained. “It’s kind of emotional. I was in Worthington, Minnesota, last week and saw the first vaccine going out … all this planning and here we are actually you know, rolling it out. It’s very exciting.”
Howard plays a big part in the rollout. She’s on the receiving end of the shipments at the Sioux Falls medical center and proceeds to make sure the right amount of vaccine is going to the right community before it’s out the door.
“The Pfizer vaccine has a lot more strict stability requirements that are based on temperature,” she explained. Once the Pfizer vaccine is outside of its required range for a certain amount of time, it becomes less viable or unable to be used.
“So, it’s really crucial and really unique. There are not a lot of real strict requirements in the pharmacy world when it comes to that type of a thing,” Howard said.
The Moderna vaccine’s requirements aren’t quite as rigid as Pfizer’s, she said. Operationally, it has been a big learning curve for her whole team.
Cold packs and large boxes are arranged in the back of a courier vehicle and transported to their destination. Sometimes those destinations are more than 100 miles away.
One of those locations is the Sanford Aberdeen Medical Center where Ashley Hansen is the pharmacy manager.
“I feel like all of our front-line health care workers are dealing with COVID patients day in day out. To have that vaccine to make sure that they’re able to treat our patients and be safe themselves is significant,” Hansen said. “We’ve been able to partner with some of our long-term care facilities in town, our independent partners, and making sure that we’re able to get that vaccine to them. It has been very significant for them to keep their employees safe so they can care for those residents.”
A ‘shot of hope’ in Canton
Not even two winter storm systems to wrap up the year 2020 could stop the vaccines from reaching their destinations.
“I was thrilled to come in and drive through a blizzard to get my vaccine. It’s something that we’ve all been looking forward to and it feels like the light at the end of a very long tunnel of this year to get vaccinated,” Sanford Canton-Inwood physical therapist Kristin Goodroad said. “We have a lot of contacts with COVID exposures and we have a lot of patients that come in that say, ‘I may have been exposed to COVID.’ So it’s always a risk that we take. I’m just very thankful to have that vaccine on board.
“I hope that my family can receive it as soon as possible,” she said. “Some of my family members have had COVID and it was very frightening to watch them go through that.”
In Sanford’s Hiawatha Heights Living Center, Melissa Schutte oversees foundation work, marketing and activities.
“We’ve been waiting for some good news and this is probably one of the best things that we could hear. There is something you can do besides stay away from people … you can go get that vaccine,” Schutte said. “It’s going to increase the likelihood that if you come into contact with with the illness, you’re not going to get very sick. This is what we need in order to move forward past this pandemic. So if we’re waiting for that herd immunity developed, naturally, it’s going to take years. This is going to speed that process up significantly. It’s the hope we’ve been waiting for.”
Continued care close to home
“We have so many people that just want to stay local,” Dr. Johnson said. “They don’t like driving and especially when we start offering it to our patients, we have so many older people that don’t like driving in the city. It’s going to increase the number of people getting the vaccine by having it available locally.”
Through winter, and a pandemic, health care workers in rural communities are thankful their patients don’t have to travel far to get what they need.
“We are close to Sioux Falls so we have that benefit of being able to go to Sioux Falls when we need to,” Schutte said. “But the convenience of being able to do it here in our hometown, not having to travel for it, is a huge benefit not only for the vaccine, but just our local facility in general … having that ability to come here and have your health care needs met is a definite plus for our community.”
After having worked in Sioux Falls, Goodroad said a smaller and rural facility is beneficial.
“I can’t believe how busy our facility is for being so close to Sioux Falls,” Goodroad said. “But it’s a wonderful asset for the community to have just for preventative services as well as for our physical therapy department and for the emergency room, if needed.”
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