Getting the COVID-19 vaccines to priority groups quickly is no easy feat.
The South Dakota Department of Health is relying on Sanford Health and fellow health systems Avera, Monument, Prairie Lakes, Mobridge Regional and Brookings Health System to distribute both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus vaccines.
“In partnership with the South Dakota Department of Health, Sanford Health as a system has been asked to serve certain communities,” Amy Thiesse said. Thiesse is the vice president of nursing and clinical services for all locations surrounding the Sioux Falls region.
The Department of Health divided up the state by counties, with Sanford assuming vaccination responsibility for a number of counties across South Dakota. Any independent facilities, clinics and long-term care locations in Sanford-designated counties will be vaccinated by Sanford Health.
“What that means is not only health care workers and long-term care employees who fit into that priority 1a, but as we work down the list we also have groups in what we call 1c and actually there’s a 1d and 1e,” Thiesse said. “But 1c would include clinics and your dentist office, your chiropractor, massage therapist.”
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In South Dakota, Sanford is stepping up to ensure that not only its own employees and Good Samaritan Society long-term care workers get the vaccine but individuals across the area. Long-term care residents in South Dakota are part of a separate vaccination effort, led by the long-term care pharmacy partnership with CVS and Walgreens.
Relief in Salem, McCook County
One of those South Dakota counties is McCook, where Sanford Health teams in Salem started vaccinating those priority groups on Dec. 30.
“It’s really exciting,” clinical services manager Betsy Howe said. “It’s that ‘shot of hope.’ It’s exciting that we can get out into these communities and offer it so they don’t have to travel far to get it … and it’s rewarding just from the health care perspective too, to be able to do that for them.”
Salem Community Drug pharmacist Eric Grocott is also relieved to have access to the vaccine in rural South Dakota.
“It’s huge,” Grocott said. “If everyone had to travel to get their vaccine, I think we’d find a lot more vaccine hesitancy and lower vaccination rates.”
Keressa Isembert with the Salem Avantara Nursing Home is another health care worker who echoes that sentiment.
“These hospital systems are looking out for their communities and I think it’s great,” Isembert said.
The vaccine distribution is based on the total number of residents in the state.
Through this team effort and heavy planning, everybody will be offered a shot at the vaccine when it’s their turn. Sanford and the other large health care systems in the state have worked together with the South Dakota Department of Health to essentially take ownership of counties and outside entities to make sure they’re vaccinated and, in some instances, mobilizing vaccine teams to get to those locations if there isn’t a nearby facility able to support them.
“As we look at not only providing the vaccine to front-line health care workers in long-term care, as we get into those subsequent groups of other populations, it may be Sanford, or it may be another system that we’ll be contacting them saying we have the vaccine available to you. So it’s just dependent on geography and service area of individuals,” Thiesse explained.
“I’ve been looking forward to this day and I’m glad it’s here,” Howe said. “I’m excited to get this out to other rural communities in the coming weeks.”
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