Together, We Rise

April 7, 2021
community vaccine clinic held every Saturday at the La Plata County Fairgrounds

American author Coretta Scott King is quoted as saying, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” The compassion of our Four Corners community has perhaps been no more evident than during our response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One such example of this compassion is the quick development of a community vaccine clinic held every Saturday at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. In the early stages of the clinic, originally organized by Durangoan Karen Zink (the clinic is now managed by San Juan Basin Public Health and COVID Check Colorado), the clinic was staffed by a dedicated group of volunteers known as the Community COVID Vaccine Team (CCVT), including some of our very own Mercy Regional Medical Center caregivers like Bethany Bernal, BSN, RN, SANE-A, Mercy Regional Medical Center’s Forensic Nurse Coordinator.

Bethany, who has been part of our Mercy Regional Medical Center family since 2013, attended the first community vaccination clinic planning meeting searching for a way to support the COVID-19 pandemic response. From that point on, Bethany became an integral part of the CCVT dedicating 20 to 30 hours a week to get the clinic staffed and running efficiently. Once the clinic was up and running, she served as one of the leads for the community vaccine clinic’s vaccine preparation station.

“I watched my colleagues in the Emergency Department (ED) grinding away day-after-day with no end in sight and I felt helpless,” Bethany recalled. “So, when this opportunity came up, I jumped on it. This was my opportunity to contribute to ending the pandemic by helping provide a real solution that is proven and effective.”

During the planning process, clinic organizer Karen referred frequently to the high social capital – a set of shared values that allows individuals to work together in a group to effectively achieve a common purpose – in Durango. Bethany has been overwhelmed with gratitude seeing Durango’s social capital in action as community members and organizations have rallied around the clinic. The clinic has received support from law enforcement, city and county governments, fire agencies, restaurants, local businesses and hundreds of volunteers including her fellow associates from Mercy Regional Medical Center’s ED, radiology department, operating room, Family Birth Center, family and internal medicine clinics and many more.

“I’m so proud to be part of the Durango community,” Bethany stated. “It has been a joy to see the community rise together like this.”

The clinic, which receives COVID-19 vaccines from San Juan Basin Health, ensures the safety of all vaccine recipients and staff volunteers by enforcing social distancing, mask wearing and limiting the number of people on the clinic floor. Early on it was determined that the Fairground’s Exhibit Hall would need a new ventilation system in order to house the clinic. Mercy Regional Medical Center and the Mercy Health Foundation immediately went to work to collect funds and pay for the installation of an updated system. Mercy Regional Medical Center, with the support of the Foundation, also provided supplies to the community clinic including office supplies, vaccine administration supplies and equipment, personal protective equipment and “low dead volume” syringes. The low dead volume syringes have a narrow plunger which enables volunteers to pull the sixth dose of the Pfizer vaccine from the vial. The clinic’s highest throughput when it was managed by the CCVT was 254 vaccines in one hour, with more than 6,309 vaccine doses administered in nine clinics.

“Never in my nursing career have I ever seen the importance of syringes in inoculation,” Bethany said. “We did not let one dose go to waste.”

Animas Surgical Hospital, Rivergate Pharmacy, San Juan Basin Health and Home Depot also donated supplies to this grassroots community volunteer effort.

“This has been such a special experience,” Bethany explained. “I can’t describe it. It is one of the highlights of my career. It’s like providing mission work in your own backyard.

“My hope is grandparents are able to hug their grandchildren, that friends can gather for dinner parties, that the economy rebuilds, and we return to some form of normalcy,” Bethany added.

As stated earlier, as of March 13 the clinic is under the management of San Juan Basin Health and COVID Check Colorado (CCC). All supplies, volunteers and employees are managed by these agencies. The CCVT provided these agencies with an 87-page Point of Distribution Plan to help aid these agencies as they manage future clinics.

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