The email from the Snohomish Health District came in Tuesday morning. Could we use 100 COVID vaccines for eligible members this week? By Thursday we had mobilized our staff, recruited volunteers, contacted & and scheduled 100 members, and prepared the Edmonds Waterfront Center for our first-ever visitors.
We have been in communication with the health district about becoming a community site for providing COVID-19 vaccines. This is a long process. Wanting to help in the meantime, the health district offered to hook us up with Anesis Spine and Pain Clinic to assist us with getting the first vaccine into the arms of our seniors.
Besides being 65 years of age or older and being a member of the Edmonds Senior Center, we needed to decide who would be included in the pilot. It was a difficult conversation. Rather than wait until all members could be vaccinated, the staff decided to seize the opportunity, vaccinate our first 100, and hopefully set the stage for becoming a designated vaccine site. We settled on starting with members 80 years or older and essential volunteers who are delivering meals, buying groceries, or having face-to-face contact with our members. I told one person who asked me how they had been selected, “We are rewarding those who have been on the planet longest.”
Emotions ran high as we made the calls to our members. Many shed tears of relief. When I told longtime member 94-year-old Janet we could get her a vaccine on Friday, she said, “I could just hug you. I have been on my phone for hours every day trying to schedule a vaccine.” Without a computer, Janet could not access telehealth resources.
Michelle Reitan, our MSW social worker, confided in me that she cried in her car as she drove to the Waterfront Center, realizing that there was nothing more important that we could be doing for our vulnerable members. My dedicated team was being asked to take this effort on top of already-stretched schedules.
Members began showing up at 1:30 p.m. for their scheduled appointments. They stood outside under blue skies and bright sun to be screened and checked in by staff. Next, they entered the Rose Cantwell Community room to get their check list/passport and sign their consent form. It was rewarding to watch the expressions (from masked faces) as they saw the interior and jaw-dropping views for the first time. Program Director Michelle Burke did the final check-in and confirmed their demographic information at the reception desk. Then I escorted them into the banquet room to one of six waiting RNs who would give them their vaccine. The relief of finally getting their first COVID vaccine and being inside the new building was overwhelming for many. After getting their vaccine, members sat in chairs facing the Sound and mountains for 15 minutes to monitor any potential negative reactions to the vaccine.
Not everyone who came by the Edmonds Waterfront Center were happy. Members who learned about the vaccines and had not been called expressed their frustration. We totally understand, but felt it was important that we prove we can safely deliver 100 vaccines (without wasting a single dose) to lay the groundwork to hopefully deliver hundreds more.
As Dr. Chris Spitters, health officer for the Snohomish Health District said in the Jan. 23 My Edmonds News story “Supply has slowed to a trickle”:
“It’s also important to understand that where people currently land in the prioritization and phases is not a reflection on their value in this community. If we had unlimited vaccine supply and clinical capacity to administer the vaccine, prioritization would not be necessary. But neither of those are the case. This is why, until vaccines start flowing into Washington and Snohomish County at a higher and more predictable pace, there is a need to prioritize the limited capacity not necessarily toward those at higher risk of acquiring COVID, but rather for those most likely to become severely ill, require hospitalization, and/or die if they get infected.”
This was a defining moment for the Waterfront Center and a highlight in my 36-year nonprofit career. To stand in the nearly complete iconic Waterfront Center, built by an army of volunteers and donors, watching my staff and team of nurses, usher in grateful members for their life-saving vaccines, was a moment I will never forget.
— By Daniel Johnson, MSW, CEO
Edmonds Waterfront Center