MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Sometimes, heroes can’t do the job alone, so they have to team up.
Teaming up is exactly what the Monongalia Health Department (MCHD) did when it enlisted the West Virginia University School of Nursing services to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic. At any given time in the past, the two organizations have had a strong relationship, so when the pandemic hit, they rolled up their sleeves and got to working together. First, the nursing school helped administer COVID tests; now, it’s also helping to administer vaccines.
“They have been a great partner, the WVU School of Nursing,” MCHD’s Public Information Officer MaryWade Burnside said. “We had some students previously, but they’re back in school. Now it’s staff and they’re essentially the ones who are giving most of the vaccines.”
On Thursday, Jan. 21, that was exactly what nurses did when they helped administer roughly 840 doses of the Pfizer COVID vaccine. Normally, there would be about 10-15 nurses from WVU, but as Burnside said, students are back in school, so the volunteer force consisted of about eight or nine faculty.
Joanne Watson, director of BSN at the WVU School of Nursing, was part of that volunteer team on Thursday. She said it’s easy getting other nurses to sign up because they are all excited to help their community in a worthwhile way. Plus, she added, there’s a teaching element.
“We feel like we are teaching the next generation of nurses, and that’s fine and good, but this is also very rewarding for us to be on the frontline and try to give to the community,” Watson said. “And it’s a need that we need right now, so we are top-notched on it — we’re ready.”
Not only do WVU nurses come ready, in many cases, they also bring their friends and even children along to help in any way they can, Watson said.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our faculty and our students,” Watson said. “They’re so eager to help. They are so excited to be able to come out and help and actually talk to the public.”
She said that talking to the public is a critical aspect of vaccine rollout because so many people have been isolated for months due to the coronavirus. Actually, having conversations with someone else can be a nice way to slowly transition people out of their COVID bubbles, even if it’s a nurse.
Additionally, there is also a teaching aspect for students because they learn communication skills and interact with others after months of mostly being stuck at home.
This commitment to teaching students while simultaneously using those lessons to improve the health outcomes of the community is why the WVU School of Nursing, as a whole, should be recognized as healthcare heroes.
However, if you hear Watson tell it, that couldn’t be farther from the truth or not how they feel inside.
“We don’t think of ourselves as heroes,” Watson said. “This is our everyday job, this is what we do for a living, you know? We’re just excited to do it.”
Excited is a word that Watson often uses to describe working on the frontlines against COVID. It’s also a word she clearly feels when she describes who she perceives as the real heroes — the health department.
“Those guys are rockstars, you have no idea the initiative and the amount of work and preparation that this is all taking, the hours that they’re putting in,” Watson said. “It’s just amazing, and the system is smooth. We have a well-oiled machine going right now, and I’m so, so excited to be able to work these people and now, call them my friends.”
Watson said the public should trust in MCHD and know that the department, like many others across the state, is doing everything it can to get their communities inoculated.
Normally, Watson said, West Virginia ranks poorly in health issues like obesity and heart disease, but that has not been the case. West Virginia has led the nation in terms of COVID-19 vaccine distribution rates, and that is what Watson means when she said the real rockstars are MCHD staff.
But just like WVU nurses, the MCHD staff is too busy saving lives and just doing their jobs to stop, and self aggrandize — not that they would want to if they had the time. Burnside and colleagues are only concerned about the county’s health and making sure everyone stays informed and gets vaccinated at the right time.
“We’re expanding how many people we do,” Burnside said. “Obviously, as we ramp up, we have to — we hope to do better each week. But we have gotten a 100 percent of the vaccine received that week into the arms of people.”
Burnside and her colleagues recognize that the demand for vaccines is very high, but they ask for patience. There are a lot of factors to account for, she said, but the public should rest assured MCHD is doing it’s best to get vaccines into arms. There’s no better proof than what she said earlier; 100 percent of vaccine doses received have been used.
There is a system in place to address the most vulnerable and critical — the elderly and healthcare workers, to name a few — so the public must be patient. In part, this means that Burnside said, people need to avoid showing up to vaccine sites without appointments.
“We have a very specific number of doses,” Burnside said. “Sometimes, with the Pfizer vaccine, we don’t know ahead of time if we’re going to get five or six doses out of the vial. It depends on the needle and the syringe. Today we know that we have the correct syringes, but we make appointments for the number of people who are coming, and some people need to — we appreciate it if they’re frustrated, but they should wait for an appointment.”
The best way to get an appointment is to call MCHD and speak to a staff member. That may be the best way now, but the PIO said the public should rest assured a better system is coming soon.
“We are working on a call center and also online registration,” Burnside said. “But those are not quite ready to introduce to the public yet. The way to sign up is going to get easier very soon.”
Until then, trust and believe these healthcare heroes have your best intentions at heart and in mind, meaning they will not rest until this pandemic is a thing of the past.