Behind the scenes of setting up MidMichigan Health’s COVID-19 vaccine clinics

It is a process that has taken an army.


MidMichigan Health started receiving vaccines for staff members in late Dec. 2020, and within a matter of weeks, the hospital system was being allotted enough vaccine and approval from the State of Michigan to begin distribution to individuals in the community.


Once approved, MidMichigan Health had about a week to coordinate the creation of four vaccine clinic locations that have handled a majority of MidMichigan Health’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution so far.


“We started on January 14 running the COVID-19 vaccine clinics for the first round of patients in Alpena, Midland, Gladwin and Mt. Pleasant, all by appointment,” says Ronette Parks, M.S.H.A.L., vice president, MidMichigan Physicians Group. “It has all went fairly smoothly, thankfully because we had a tremendous amount of help and collaboration with our entire MidMichigan Health team across our service area.”
Sanford resident, Denise Drake, reviews COVID-19 information with Michelle Abedrabo, R.N., data specialist II, prior to her vaccination.

Thanks to that collaboration, MidMichigan Health was able to vaccinate more than 2,500 people in just the first three days alone. They were also able to add a clinic in West Branch and will be looking at additional vaccine clinic locations in the future.


“It’s a process that truly takes everyone, from IT, to communications, to all of our facilities to make something like this happen so quickly,” says Parks. “There has also been so much enthusiasm and excitement around being able to provide this service for our patients and start to take this step forward. We’ve had consistent feedback from patients along the way that this works like a well-oiled machine.”


Handling patient flow was one of the top aspects for consideration, given that the first round of those eligible for vaccination were patients 65 years of age and older and 1b essential workers.


“We designed our flow around what is the best for the patient in terms of keeping the process moving and getting people in and out as safely as possible,” says Brenda Turner, M.A., R.D., director of ambulatory quality, MidMichigan Physicians Group. “We had to take into consideration that some of these individuals may be frail or have a pre-existing condition which puts them in a high-risk category. After the year we’ve had, many also had added anxiety about being in public space or the vaccine in general.”


It is because of that factor, the locations of the four different COVID-19 vaccination clinics were important.
Melanie Kalmar, of Midland, checks in for her COVID-19 vaccine with Melisa McLeod-Blohm, director, MidMichigan Physicians Group, at a recent vaccination clinic.

All patients receiving the vaccine in the initial round were previously identified by their primary care physician and put on a waitlist contacted personally. Patients not connected to a MidMichigan Physicians Group primary care provider but use MidMichigan’s Patient Portal have received vaccine updates via the Patient Portal.


MidMichigan Health still runs the COVID-19 hotline and also added a COVID-19 vaccine component for those patients that do not have a primary care provider or portal account, allowing them to call the hotline, be screened for eligibility and placed on a waitlist for the vaccine.


“These were groups of patients that were higher in terms of their risk and tolerance of overall exposure, and worries that there were going to be long lines and limited capacity to social distance,” says Turner. “So, we were very cognizant of that upfront to ensure that the locations that we chose more than provided for those safety precautions."


There are still cases of misinformation that the health system is working to dispel broadly and one-on-one with patients each day.


“We are still seeing instances of misinformation among patients and the general public and that is something we are working towards clearing up each day,” says David Jordahl, M.D., senior council chief, MidMichigan Physicians Group; family physician and medical director, MidMichigan Health Park – Bay. “We are doing broad education, but so much of this comes down to just that one-on-one care with each patient, making sure that they have the correct information from their provider. We’ve found that is one of the best ways to help with the spread of misinformation out there.”
Mary Wideman, R.N., administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Sanford resident Denise Drake.

Built on the health system’s own model for vaccinations of staff, the initial rounds of the vaccine delivery to the public went very smooth, with patients waiting no more than 30-35 minutes for the whole process, half of which is a mandatory 15-minute waiting period utilized to make sure patients do not have an immediate adverse reaction to the vaccine.


“It was certainly our number one priority keeping the wait times and patient flow moving ahead safely,” says Turner. “And we saw that internally as well, everyone across the board stepped up to the plate to make this work smoothly and efficiently.”


“We were able to get this up and running within a week once this phase became available because the foundation of this process was based on our employee clinics,” says Parks. “We found the whole process of initially vaccinating employees to be an amazing experience and very well organized. Many people from our team recognized it was naturally a model to extend to patients as we started vaccinating the general public as well.”


It was also a milestone after a long year of intense pressure and stress for hospital and nursing staff.


“Many of these nurses that have been working in inpatient settings on the COVID floors saw devastation and were especially taxed,” says Turner. “For safety, hospitals had several parameters in place, like isolating patients from family members to reduce exposure, so nurses often saw patients and families struggling during those times. For those nurses to help work some of these vaccine clinics, and see patients shed tears of relief and joy that they were able to get the vaccine this quickly, it was almost a mental break for them compared to what the initial stages of COVID-19 were like.”


The vaccine has brought about an inspired hope for the future.
Melanie Kalmar, of Midland, receives her vaccine from Samantha Osburn, medical assistant.

“Witnessing the excitement, hope, and thankfulness out of the patients at the vaccine clinic has been revitalizing,” says Amanda Wood, C.M.A, practice supervisor, MIdMichigan Medical Offices – East End. “While there you can hear a happy chatter around the room, patients joking with the staff and each other. They’re just so excited to be on their way to seeing their family again and the possibility of normalcy.”


“It has inspired our staff, especially those who have seen the worst of this, that things will get better and we will be able to move on from this,” says Turner. “Because of that, we have not had any problems getting help for extra staff working vaccine clinics. People have been very willing to pick up an extra shift and volunteer for this effort, because it is like seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.”


One of the only requirements for patients getting the vaccine within their round and priority is that they not have already received another vaccine – such as the flu, Hepatitis B, or shingles vaccines – within the previous 14 days to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.


For now, MidMichigan Health is running the four clinics, but they are also looking at where they can expand to and give patients added convenience and access. Further guidance will come from the State of Michigan, and MidMichigan Health leadership is involved in regular calls on the status of vaccine supply.


The process is something that works seamlessly to get patients scheduled for the second round of immunization.


“We are registering patients in our electronic medical record database and it’s designed to automatically allow us to schedule that second appointment in for inoculation in the appropriate time frame,” says Turner. “So, before the patient even walks out of the door, they have their appointment already for the second round of the vaccine, they know when and where to go. We have worked to make this as smooth as possible.”

Read more articles by Courtney Soule.

Courtney is a longtime Midland resident and enjoys telling the story of the community's evolution. She ran Catalyst Midland as the publication's managing editor from October 2017 through September 2020. Her favorite topics are interesting people, change makers, outdoor recreation and design. Aside from Catalyst, her published work can be found various places including Elephant Journal, Thought Catalog and a number of other websites, papers, menus and the occasional one-liner. 
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