By Olwen Menez
The CO-mmunity Corps blog series highlights the incredible work that members of the CO-mmunity Corps (Immunize Colorado’s AmeriCorps VISTA program) are doing across Colorado to build capacity for immunization programs.
On August 3rd, I started my first day as an Immunization Outreach and Education Coordinator at Jefferson County Public Health, the county agency that provides public health services to a large area just east of Denver, Colorado that includes urban, suburban, rural and mountain communities. Its almost 800 square miles is home to close to 600,00 diverse residents. I was placed at the Jefferson County Public Health department by Immunize Colorado to provide a year of national service through the AmeriCorps VISTA program.
The knowledge I have gained from my coworkers and experiences in these past few months has been unparalleled. When I first arrived at Jefferson County, our team had never held drive thru clinics before and I did not even know such a concept existed. Now, we have held five successful drive thru clinics, each teaching us unique and valuable lessons along the way. By sharing my experiences of two of them, I hope to provide insights to those new to the idea and for those who have run their own drive thru clinics before. By sharing lessons learned, I believe we can build capacity and experience to grow and expand our impact, especially in preparation for a COVID-19 vaccine.
The HeadStart Clinic: October 10, 2020
During a community call, our team was made aware that the Latinx community was having a drive thru food drive, and that it would be possible to hold a flu vaccination clinic on-site at the same time. Our team debated whether or not to dive in because we were woefully understaffed, and the event was rapidly approaching. I strongly encouraged us to take the opportunity and offered to do as much prep work as I could to get the clinic planned. After deliberating, my supervisor gave the green light and our mission commenced.
The site map, which outlines the layout for the clinic was drawn up, the supplies checked and re-checked, the paperwork completed, and the vaccine stocked. We arrived on site an hour prior to the start of our clinic and began to set up. The final result vaguely resembled the site map, but many changes had been made: the two tents meant to be vaccination stations had merged into one long tent, the walk-up station was moved to the other side of the parking lot, and registration was all over the place. Despite the changes, everyone knew their role; we assumed our positions and braced ourselves as the cars started lining up. We moved the cones aside, began allowing cars in, and ran face first into problem number one. Communicating with patients about what we were doing needed to be done completely in Spanish and very few of our staff spoke Spanish. We had planned to use the food bank volunteers to help translate but they were busy and couldn’t spare personnel. I was supposed to oversee the operation, but cars were soon backed up and were beginning to hinder traffic. I grabbed a stack of clipboards and started going down the line encouraging them to get their flu shot and explaining the registration process, speaking more Spanish than I had in a year.
When I could finally take a break and click back to English, I checked on the vaccination station. My supervisor, who had stopped by to check in and who was supposed to be resting after her surgery, was drawing up vaccine; another health professional teammate who was supposed to oversee the operation with me was administering vaccine; one of the registration personnel was directing traffic. Paperwork that I was handing out to patients was no longer being collected at the registration table but at the vaccination station and I was running out of clipboards as they all piled up with the nurses. Adjustments were made and each and every member of our team was problem solving and fine-tuning the process in real time. By the end of a very exhausting but riveting clinic, we had given out 109 flu shots. Our cooler’s temperature data logger cord had snapped after wrapping up the clinic, and our radios had stopped working. By the end we were hot and sweaty but proud nonetheless that despite the challenges, we had pulled off a truly successful clinic.
Reflecting upon this experience, I learned that the most important thing to bring off of the supply list is flexibility. Planning and organization is most definitely an essential aspect of a successful clinic, but being able to adapt and change as needed during the process itself is key to a flowing event. Site maps will always look different and roles will always evolve but the impact on the community is everlasting – and in the end that’s what truly matters. The rapport that we established with the Latinx community while running around getting them registered or chatting while they waited their 15 minutes before driving off will be invaluable should the need to hold future mass vaccination events arise. Oh – and note to self: next time don’t forget to pack a stapler.
The Whitlock Clinic: October 22, 2020
Round two of community drive thru flu clinics. Our staplers were packed and vaccine was stocked. We headed out to set up at the Charles E. Whitlock Recreation Center where the city of Lakewood had been targeting the 65+ population in hopes of getting as many people pre-registered as possible for our flu clinic. We learned that having clients pre-register was going to be a million times easier for data entry later on.
Drawing on our lessons from the first clinic, we were much better equipped for this one. We did not, however, think to check the weather. Having held a drive thru clinic in the sizzling heat less than two weeks prior, we were not ready for the freezing rain and stinging wind that this particular fall day brought. Thankfully, we had gotten our tent sides in and set up which helped block the wind from hurling the Band-Aids and cotton balls onto the tennis courts and playground nearby. Our amazingly kind supervisor ran to the store and picked up gloves, hats, and handwarmers to share amongst us. The flow was much less rushed than the previous clinic but was consistent – everyone always had something to do. A lady picking up her mail nearby asked one of our nurses what was going on. He explained the community-based event to her, and she decided to get her free flu shot as well. Another person reached; another person made safer.
Despite running this event in freezing weather, we were all very happy at how well the clinic had gone. We learned that paper towels are essential items to bring in inclement, wet weather, and that having more than enough masks is critical, as they became drenched in the rain. Over the four hours of the clinic, we vaccinated 57 adults via a single drive thru lane.
Working from Home: October 26, 2020
Reflecting on these experiences, I can truly say what an amazing and rewarding process each of these clinics has been. Working as a team toward a common goal of helping our community, along with seeing the impact of our work first-hand, was an incredibly meaningful experience. Meeting so many new and friendly people filled me with a deep sense of happiness, especially after all these months of quarantine. Being outside and not surrounded by four concrete walls reminded me of all the possibilities regarding potential future career paths. Reading studies and watching news reports makes it clear that we have a lot of work ahead of us when it comes to improving public health and ensuring high vaccination rates, especially during a pandemic. Nonetheless, being on the ground and vaccinating so many people, who have limited access to basic healthcare needs – in just a number of hours – should reinforce the importance of public health and teamwork, and inspire us all to keep working to protect our communities. This is why I am conducting national service with AmeriCorps Vista and it is the core of what keeps me going.
Thank you to my teammates and supervisor, Gwyn, for being constant role models.
Olwen Menez is an AmeriCorps VISTA placed at Jefferson County Public Health in Colorado, where she will continue to work on immunization outreach and education initiatives until August, 2021.