Labette Health was one of five locations in Kansas to receive the Pfizer vaccine for regional distribution earlier this month and again on Tuesday night, hospital trustees heard Thursday.
Brian Williams, hospital CEO, said Labette Health, Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka, Ascension Via Christi in Wichita, the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas, and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment were the five chosen as cold storage and distribution sites for the vaccine. The state required secrecy from these locations for fear of bio-terrorism. The vaccine has to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, and the state received less than 24,000 doses initially of the Pfizer vaccine.
Labette County received 950 doses in the first Pfizer shipment. Williams credited Labette County Sheriff Darren Eichinger, Parsons Police Chief Robert Spinks and Independence Police Chief Jerry Harrison for assisting with vaccine security after it arrived via commercial carrier and during distribution and for other help during the pandemic. Labette Health kept 150 of those doses and distributed the rest to hospitals regionally.
The booster dose, to be administered 21 days after the first dose, came in about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and a contingent of Labette Health administrators met the shipment on U.S. 400. Pharmacy Director Ashley Harlow signed for the shipment, split it up into coolers and divided the coolers for distribution, Williams said. Hospital CFO Tom Macaronas took doses to Coffeyville Regional Medical Center, Doug Stacy, vice president of Labette Health Physician Group, took doses to hospitals in Fredonia and Neodesha and Williams said he drove doses to Girard. Harlow prepared the booster doses for administering at the hospital on Wednesday and Thursday.
He thinks Kansas has done well with vaccine distribution because hospitals that ordered it have it. That’s not the case in some states, including Nebraska, he said.
Labette Health also signed up to be a vaccination site under the state’s vaccination plan.
“If you don’t enroll, you don’t get the vaccine. So some of the county health departments have not enrolled,” he said. He said the hospital would help health departments with distribution if they would enroll to distribute the vaccine once it’s available to more than just health care workers and first responders.
He said some physician offices and pharmacies are beginning sign-up lists for the public to receive the vaccine when it’s finally available. The state’s plan shows that may not be until late spring or early summer for most of the public. Senior citizens, especially those with health conditions, may be eligible sooner. Labette Health would help with vaccine administration if needed.
“If you don’t have a staff, we will help you. And they’ll let you transfer vaccine,” Williams said.
Labette Health also received 500 doses of the Moderna vaccine, even though it asked for 600 doses. Distribution began last week to health care workers and others based on the state’s vaccination plan. Between Pfizer and Moderna, Labette Health has administered 407 vaccine doses, Williams told trustees.
He offered trustees and members of the hospital foundation board the opportunity to receive the vaccine next week if they wished. Some have already received it based on their employment. But trustees and foundation board members would qualify under the state’s vaccination plan because of their affiliation with the hospital.
Williams said he wants to make sure the hospital is fair in its distribution and follows state and national guidelines. The focus now is those who interact with patients.
Physicians, once they have the vaccine, may have to make difficult decisions on what patients should get it first if they receive limited doses.
“The end goal of the United States’ vaccination program — and I support this — is to vaccinate every American willing to be vaccinated. And in the end we won’t waste any vaccine,” Williams said.
So if a vaccine that is thawed and prepared is going to expire in 10 minutes and a 35-year-old is close enough to get that, that person will get a dose, he said.
He said he had to beg a couple of doctors to take the vaccine, though more than 95% of physicians offered it have taken it. He convinced some that if they became ill that could impact patient care. Overall, about 66% of those offered the vaccine by Labette Health have taken it.
“Health care workers are wired to take care of you more than themselves. That’s what leadership is. I should care more about you than I do myself,” Williams said.
Walgreens and CVS are vaccinating those in long-term care facilities in Kansas. The Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas also is receiving and distributing vaccine based on the state’s plan. Williams said Labette Health is working with Krista Postai of CHC on this.
The hospital is also looking at helping provide vaccine at Parsons State Hospital and Training Center.
Dr. Manish Dixit, a hospital trustee, asked about vaccines for older citizens, age 65 and older. The specific timing of vaccine availability to the public is not known now, but Williams said limited doses may force hard decisions by physicians on who should receive them.
Williams encouraged patients to visit with their physicians to get on a vaccine waiting list, or a pharmacy’s waiting list, if the pharmacy keeps one.
Trustee Wayne Gilmore, a Parsons optometrist, asked about post-traumatic stress disorder and how it may impact front-line health care workers. He wondered if the hospital could offer help or mental health counseling. Williams had related to trustees comments he heard from nurses working with COVID-19 patients, who continue to fill hospital beds at Labette and other hospitals. Nurses shared feelings of exhaustion in dealing with the seemingly unending patient load. Williams said the pandemic is unprecedented in many ways, especially related to health care.
Williams said one issue is that many nurses and hospital staff may be too busy to take time out for mental health counseling at this time.
Dixit said perhaps the therapy could be offered in shorter sessions.
Gilmore suggested that just sitting around and talking about the day after a shift ends may be a benefit.
Williams said he would work on that because some hospitals in the nation have nurses walking out because of the stress related to COVID-19 patient care.
He also encouraged trustees to continue sharing the message of masking up, social distancing and washing hands. Some in the communities still fight those recommendations. He also shared South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham’s message after the coup attempt in the U.S. Capitol Wednesday that Americans should start finding the middle ground to limit the left and right extremes in political discourse that have divided Americans on many issues, including the pandemic.
“We’re Americans. We’re in this together,” Williams said.