By Gus Pearcy
At about 1:30 p.m. Feb. 12, Hendricks Regional Health administered its 20,000th shot to vaccinate against COVID-19.
“It was incredible,” said Kevin Speer, hospital CEO and president. “She was 100 years old and served in the armed forces during World War II. She was sharper than I am.”
The massive and historical operation to vaccinate the population began Dec. 18 at the Hendricks County 4-H Fairgrounds and Conference Complex. The Indiana State Department of Health designated Hendricks Regional Health as a level one provider, meaning it was tasked with vaccinating medical personnel from Hendricks and Putnam counties.
The HRH staff have created a vaccination clinic to do just that. Led by chief medical officer Dr. Michelle Fenoughty, the clinic is engineered to be easily upscaled to handle the increase in demand once 60- to 65-year-olds are eligible for shots.
“As you move into the younger people, the numbers are exponentially larger,” Speer said.
Location was important. Speer points out that most people can get to the fairgrounds, and it is large enough to handle the influx of patients. Plus, it has plenty of parking and no steps.
“The county and the fairgrounds were very generous to make this space available to us,” Speer said. “Dr. Fenoughty and her team have done an incredible job of designing and engineering.
“I can’t imagine how we can make it more efficient,” Speer said.
The clinic vaccinates 10 people every 10 minutes. One Saturday that meant almost 800 shots. Fenoughty has no previous experience in coordinating such a massive operation.
“I’m a mom,” she explained. “There’s a great team around me.”
Currently, the clinic is a partnership between HRH and the Hendricks County Health Department. From 9 a.m.-1 p.m. volunteers from the health department staff the clinic giving out the Moderna vaccine. From 1-7 p.m. HRH is staffing and inoculating with the Pfizer vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept at -80 degrees and the hospital is the only unit with those deep freezers.
The hospital also set up a mobile clinic at the Hendricks Senior Services to make it easier for their clients to get vaccinated, Speer said.
What to expect at the clinic
Upon arrival to the fairgrounds, those who have vaccine appointments through the state meet with volunteers to ensure they are not sick or symptomatic. At the registration area those getting vaccinated provide identification and wait in a socially-distanced line then go to a draped station to receive a shot.
Afterward, staff sets up the date for a second dose if needed. Finally, patients sit for 15 minutes monitored by medical personnel for any reactions.
Only one patient went to the emergency room because of a bad reaction, Fenoughty said.
The clinic is open seven days a week. They did not close during the winter storm Feb. 16, but Fenoughty said many patients shifted to Monday.
The state sets the number of appointments based on the quantity of vaccines received.
Fenoughty and Speer would like to do more. Ten stations are not used all the time but will be available when inoculations ramp up. Both said they have not wasted a single dose of the vaccine since the clinic opened.
All HRH clinic staff volunteer their time, Speer said.
“All of our nurses, all of our doctors, all my team … are just here in addition to their normal responsibilities,” Speer said. “We take it very seriously. This is the beginning of the end, and we want to make sure it’s done safely, efficiently and properly.”
HRH is also investing hundreds of thousands of dollars into the execution of the vaccination. The organization committed to stay with the clinic until June. By that time the vaccine would likely be available in many other locations, such as doctor offices or retail pharmacies and no longer needed, Speer said.
Hendricks County has recorded more than 15,600 cases of COVID-19. Top health officer Dr. David Stopperich recently told the county commissioners daily cases were near 50 per day, down from 77 in January.
There have also been nearly 300 deaths in Hendricks County due to the novel coronavirus. A recent bump occurred at the end of 2020 when the state performed an audit, adding 20 to the number who passed away. As of Feb. 19, the positivity rate in Hendricks County is down to 6.4%. The county has been yellow as of Feb. 17, which means capacity for events can be at 50%.
The Hendricks County Health Department is vaccinating 1,000 people a week. HRH is doing almost 3,000 a week. IU Health West Hospital just opened a COVID-19 vaccination clinic Feb. 23 and expects to give out 975 shots each week, said spokeswoman Berkley Rios.
The goal of all these organizations is to get shots into more people’s arms.
“We’re already seeing a downward trend in hospital admissions,” Speer said. “Absent the vaccine, I don’t think we would be seeing that. We just need to convince as many people as we can that this is a good thing, because it is, and get them to come in, get vaccinated and get us all back to normal.