SSM Health opens new COVID-19 vaccination site, gears up for expanded distribution

MADISON, Wis. – SSM Health is expanding its COVID-19 vaccination efforts in our area, gearing up for the massive job of getting everyone a shot.

The health system opened a new vaccination site at the Dean Health Medical Group Clinic in Sun Prairie to vaccinate unaffiliated health care workers such as private practice providers and dental workers, a process that began last week.

Up until this point, SSM Health vaccinated workers at St. Mary’s Hospital on Park St.

“We realize now we need to expand access to the vaccine by offering the vaccine at clinic sites, not just hospitals,” said Mo Kharbat, regional vice president of pharmacy services.

Kharbat said SSM Health has a task force sorting through about 470 vaccine requests from unaffiliated health care groups in its service area. As of this morning, they had approved about 300.

Only in times like these are people lining up to get shots.

“I see patients all day, a lot of aerosols. I’ve had patients who have had it,” said Mike Gartley, a dental hygienist at Madison No Fear Dentistry. “This is a very serious disease. I recently had two family members pass because of COVID. People weren’t careful enough around them.”

Gartley and others were among the first to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Sun Prairie site Tuesday.

“Not even as bad as a flu shot,” said Amanda Hill, a CNA and Social worker at Brightstar in Beloit. “Actually, I didn’t feel it.”

Hill has been feeling the strain of the past year.

“It’s been tough watching people I take care of and people I know pass away and going to the funerals. You can’t even comfort anyone,” she said. “I’m ready to do my part and get it done.”

To help get distribution done more quickly as Wisconsin moves closer to allowing more groups to receive the vaccine, SSM Health plans to open 10 additional vaccination sites across its service areas. Currently, the health system has 10 vaccination sites for nonemployees considered to be in Phase 1A in not only Madison and Sun Prairie, but in Janesville, Monroe, Baraboo, Fond du Lac, Ripon and Waupun, as well.

“This effort will accelerate now that we have more sites in Madison that can vaccinate,” Kharbat said. “The feedback we’re getting is excitement, enthusiasm.”

As hundreds of health care groups join the queue, factors like vaccine supply at the nearest vaccination site and number of employees play into when a group will get their turn. In some cases, a smaller group may get in earlier to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible, according to Kharbat.

“The sooner we vaccinate health care workers, the sooner we can begin vaccinating essential workers, the sooner we can get to the point when the vaccine becomes available to everyone,” Kharbat, adding that that will likely happen by the summertime.

When it’s time for people in the general public to take their place in line, health care workers ask they step up.

“We all need to do our part to help everybody else and protect ourselves,” Gartley said.

“You’re doing a service to the world,” Solomon Bass, a project manager at Brightstar, said. “We never expected to be in a pandemic. Think about this, you see these in movies. So think about this, they save lives in movies. Save lives in real life, and you’re the hero.”