Flu clinic serves 1,600, and might have served more
The first person got in line at 8 am, and by 9 am Friday more than 300 people lined the long hallways of Martha's Vineyard Regional High School waiting for the doors to open for the all-island flu clinic.
The initial line snaking around the Performing Arts Center lobby looked daunting to anyone who came about 8:30, but one volunteer notified another and another, and soon the line was moving closer toward the gymnasium door. The volunteers at every corridor turn kept assuring the crowd that once inside the gym they would move along quickly at the 30 nurses' tables set up to administer the vaccines.
Nurse practitioner Grace Sullivan gives a flu shot to Arlene Bodge. Photos by Jeremy W. Smith
Most people didn't seem to mind the wait and were chatting with their neighbors in the first wave. Judy Williamson of Oak Bluffs, who came with her husband, Peter, said, "I'm glad I came early. I've got other things to do today, like get my hair done."
Another woman, who asked not to be named, said she is just an "early person" who always gets the shot because she takes medication that weakens her immune system.
At exactly 9 am, the gym doors opened and the people streamed in to the cheerful greetings of John Powers, West Tisbury's health agent, one of the clinic organizers and self-designated emcee for the event. "I love to see those smiles," he told one group while directing them to the check-in stations.
At 9:15, Mr. Powers looked at the empty doorway, turned around and announced to the workers: "It's 9:15 and we've worked the line out." By 9:30, 350 people had received vaccines.
That first half hour of the all-Island clinic and pandemic drill was the busiest of the day, Mr. Powers said, noting that the pace was almost too slow later on. Most people who attended the clinic had filled out their required forms before, which really helped streamline the procedure, he said.
About 1,600 people were inoculated with the flu vaccine and other vaccines Friday, but the organizers would like to have served many more, up to 3,000.
Nurse Dina Salvatore prepares a needle.
Overall, the clinic and emergency drill went very well, Mr. Powers and other organizers said. He has received many positive comments and only a few complaints. "It shows we can come together," he said.
People who attended the clinic were still raving about the excellent organization on Tuesday.
Juleann VanBelle, health promotion coordinator for Visiting Nurse Service who was in charge of the medical professionals at the clinic, agreed with Mr. Powers. Although she wished they could have given more vaccines, she said, "I feel really pleased with the fact that we doubled the vaccines from last year. It was a holiday and some people had to work." She added that some people didn't come because they were afraid it would be too chaotic.
Ms. VanBelle said her goal for the day was to administer 600 flu vaccines an hour for the five-hour clinic. She was most impressed by how the volunteers pitched in wherever they were needed without a lot of direction.
"That meant a lot to me," she said. She was in charge of 35 nurses from different Island agencies and Martha's Vineyard Hospital and there were at least 50 other volunteers on hand.
Ms. VanBelle thought there could be more orientation for the nurses next time. They only had one session the night before.
One area of the clinic that was especially busy was the drive-through in the back of the gym. It was set up for those with disabilities or who might have difficultly getting inside.
Mr. Powers said these people were spotted by the parking lot attendants checking for handicapped license plates or asking them questions about their ability to get out of their cars. Those people were then directed to the area where the nurses came to their cars to administer the vaccine. Extra nurses were brought there to handle the extra volume.
Betsy Marshall, an RN who used to work at Community Services, volunteered for the clinic because, she said, "I believe in community service and I love seeing the people."
The organizers cited a few other areas that could be improved.
"We could make the walk a little shorter for some seniors," Mr. Powers said, but the biggest problem was the jammed parking lot when so many arrived early.
The special shuttle buses for the elderly didn't start to arrive until after 9 and were staggered to avoid the rush. Mr. Powers would have liked more people to take advantage of the buses, but acknowledged that there was probably not enough publicity about them.
One or two people had a negative reaction to the vaccine and had to be taken to the hospital in the waiting ambulance, Mr. Powers said. EMTs also were on hand all day to watch for any reactions to the vaccines.
The clinic involved many Vineyard and off-Island health and emergency service professionals. The entire event served as an incident command scenario for the police, headed by Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake, incident commander. He and seven police officers were standing by as was the big white mobile command post in the parking lot.
"It's a great practice run," Chief Blake said. He said the drill helps all the professionals involved see if they have enough resources and volunteers for a real pandemic or other disaster. He said one slight hitch for the traffic control early on was that some people used handicapped parking spaces before the attendants could block them off.
Inside the mobile command post, which was purchased by the island police chiefs with a federal grant, Oak Bluffs police officer Brian Kenney, the technical expert, and police Lt. Timothy Williamson were keeping an eye on the high school parking lot through the unit's many cameras on its massive "dashboard."
"The police are on hand for crowd control," Lt. Williamson explained. "If it were a major incident, like small pox, people would panic." A massive inoculation effort could handle 500 people an hour under the guidelines of the state and federally mandated Emergency Preparedness Plan, he said.
Health agents from the Barnstable County Regional Emergency Planning Committee and Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment were observing and evaluating the clinic. The group had helped the Vineyard agents get more vaccines when they learned the Island's delivery was going to be delayed.
Another group stationed in the school corridor was the newly formed Martha's Vineyard Medical Reserve Corps. Seanna Gretchen of the Barnstable County Health Department was handing out forms for volunteers to join the corps. "Our main goal is to educate the community as to where to come," in case of a real disaster, she said. She said it is important for people to keep health forms in their homes to have ready in case of a pandemic. They can download the forms from the state Department of Health web site.
Other volunteers included three interpreters and members of the Rotary Club.
Mr. Powers said he expects a similar all-Island flu clinic will be held next year. This year's organizers will hold evaluation sessions soon. Some smaller all-Island and town clinics will be offered in a few weeks, but the dates have not been set.