'Building authentic partnerships' + other strategies to lead mass vaccination events: 3 health systems weigh in

Stadiums, racetracks and more — something health systems have become increasingly familiar with as they spearhead mass COVID-19 vaccination events. They've proved a successful model to quickly get shots in arms, but what does it take to hit the ground running with an effort of such scale?

In late January, Charlotte, N.C.-based Atrium Health held a mass vaccination event at Bank of America Stadium and vaccinated more than 19,000 residents in three days. Just before that, the health system administered first doses to nearly 16,000 people at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Novant Health administered more than 100,000 first and second doses in about two months, and San Francisco-based Dignity Health delivered first dose shots to more than 20,000 underserved Los Angeles residents at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif., from Feb. 15-19. 

Officials from the health systems shared lessons they've learned from coordinating mass vaccination programs with Becker's.

Five strategies: 

1. Keep equity at the center. For Atrium Health, that meant choosing mass vaccination sites carefully to widen access for vulnerable populations, said Becky Fox, MSN, RN, vice president and chief informatics officer. In addition to its know-how of managing massive crowds, Bank of America stadium was chosen for its convenient location. "It's located near the bus line and right near the light rail service," Ms. Fox said. "Being in the heart of the city, this event allowed us to better reach underserved populations." Similarly, Charlotte Motor Speedway was selected for its more rural location, serving a patient population that may not have broad access to health services. 

Dignity Health staff designated an area at its event to help patients navigate online registrations systems, said Julie Sprengel, RN, Southwest division president of CommonSpirit Health, Dignity Health's parent company. "Computers and internet may seem logical, yet be mindful that many low-income, underserved communities do not have access and will require significant outreach efforts through other means," Ms. Sprengel told Becker's.  

2. Establish partnerships. Novant Health's mass vaccination effort relies heavily on local partnerships with faith-based organizations, school systems and others to secure locations for holding COVID-19 vaccine clinics. That also ties into equity, as many of those sites are located within historically marginalized communities, said Pam Oliver, MD, executive vice president of the health system and president of its physician network. "We've found that by building authentic partnerships, we're better able to not only expand access but earn the trust needed to overcome hesitancy barriers," she said. 

Atrium Health led the medical front at its vaccine events, while Honeywell's experts provided logistics to improve processes, and the sport venues oversaw event management — all working toward the same goal of getting shots into arms, Ms. Fox said. 

3. Build a sustainable staffing plan. "It takes a village," Dr. Oliver acknowledged, adding that staff well-being should remain a priority. "For every day you stand up a vaccination event, it's really two that you're committing to account for second doses," she said. "So if you have three weekends in a row with mass vaccination events, that's six back-to-back weekends that you need your already tired, dedicated staff to work. That's why we're working to scale appointments during the week. It's our responsibility to prevent the burnout of our team members."  

4. Dedicate a team to vaccine storage and supply management. That includes prepping and labeling the vaccine, and tracking lot numbers. "We had runners who brought the vaccine to the vaccine stations so it was ready for the vaccine administrator," Ms. Sprengel said of Dignity Health's efforts. "We made 'vaccine kits' which had all the required supplies for the vaccinator ready to go every morning." 

At Atrium Health's events, "No vaccine is stored on-site," Ms. Fox added. "Instead, it is brought to the event each day, secured in a refrigerator on-site and then processed throughout the day to meet the vaccination needs of the event, hour-by-hour." 

5. Anticipate long waits and adapt accordingly. "Start early — cars will line up waiting for their vaccine, and starting early helped keep the wait times low throughout the day," Ms. Sprengel said. 

Ms. Fox echoed the same experience based on Atrium Health's events, noting that they responded by implementing early soft openings and worked with Lean Principle Management experts to create standards for workflow informed by rapid-cycle technology developments. 

Dignity Health also kept traffic flowing by hammering out signage in advance, Ms. Sprengel added. That included vaccination cards, directional signage, instructional signage preparing patients to receive the vaccine (ID ready, shoulder exposed, etc.), window stickers for timing of observation, and handouts for side effects and symptoms of adverse reactions. 

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