Smaller, rural hospitals quickly moving through phase 1A vaccinations

PRAIRIE DU SAC, Wis. — A representative at Sauk Prairie Healthcare said that by the end of the day Monday, all employees who had requested a vaccine would be vaccinated. That includes about 470 employees at multiple locations.

Although there was an initial delay in receiving its first delivery of a COVID-19 vaccine, Sauk Prairie Healthcare has quickly vaccinated its employees. While many large hospitals received a first shipment on Dec. 14, Sauk Prairie Hospital had to wait until Dec. 23.

For comparison, UW Health has vaccinated 9,500 of its 13,000 employees who are eligible for a vaccine in the first phase.

Sauk Prairie Healthcare pharmacy director Matthew Garvin said at first the communication from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services was inconsistent and confusing, but now the state’s vaccine distribution plan seems to be working well.

He said the hospital used a couple dozen extra doses of the vaccine to immunize EMS workers and unaffiliated healthcare workers such as dentists, chiropractors and community pharmacists. But those doses have now run out.

“This last week the request I put in for first doses, we didn’t get that. So we’ve had to unfortunately put on hold some of those clinics for other community members. But I’m hopeful that we can get some more doses next week,” said Garvin.

During a media briefing Monday, DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said last week they had more requests for vaccine than vaccine to give. She and Gov. Tony Evers are calling on the federal government to increase the amount of doses given to Wisconsin in weekly allocations.

“Because we have a high proportion of long term care residents and healthcare workers in Wisconsin compared to our population, we have a lot more people to vaccinate in phase 1 compared to vaccine received,” said Willems Van Dijk.

She said about 30% of the state’s 1A population has been vaccinated so far. That first group includes healthcare workers and both residents and employees in skilled nursing and assisted living facilities.

The state is getting ready to move to phase 1B, which will include police and fire department employees along with others.

Hospitals are attempting to use vaccine as soon as they get it. Mile Bluff Medical Center in Juneau County has vaccinated about 300 of their 750 employees in the last 2 weeks.

Infection Control Director Brenda Totzke said the process has been going “so far, so good.”

She said Juneau County Public Health has been helping, including vaccinating people in nursing homes.

Upland Hills Health hospital in Dodgeville also said the process is moving smoothly. A representative said the hospital has used its 700 allocated doses to vaccinate all direct patient care staff who wanted to be vaccinated. UHH is now working with the Iowa County Health Department to help vaccinate other 1A members in the community.

As the state moves on to start vaccinating the 1B population, the logistics of how to get shots in arms could become more complicated.

“We fully expect to vaccinate our own patients and be involved in the community vaccination effort as well, but the unknown is just how much of that is going to be shouldered by hospitals in their area and how much is going to be the county public health,” said Garvin.

He said it would be difficult for a small, rural hospital to be responsible for vaccinating an entire community because they would need to hire additional staff. It would also be a struggle to fund large drive thru vaccination clinics.

Willems Van Dijk said DHS is prepared to help supplement efforts, especially in rural communities, and many public health department will need to step up to vaccinate people as well.