AMESBURY – Visitors to the Lowell Merrimack Valley Regional Collaborative vaccine clinic will see a smoothly-run operation filled with professional staff and dedicated local volunteers.
What visitors do not see are the countless hours of behind-the-scenes planning among the leadership team, beginning the Monday morning after every clinic.
“Sometimes, it’s Sunday night,” says Nurse Manager Diane Dardeno, who will break down the weekend with fellow Nurse Manager Tina LaCourse as Amesbury firefighters are breaking down the high school gymnasium at the end of the weekend clinic. “The goal is to be ready to go on Monday morning.”
The clinic operates under the Incident Command System, which is standard in fire services. Amesbury Fire Chief Ken Berkenbush and West Newbury Health Agent Paul Sevigny serve as Incident Commanders, working the clinic site throughout each weekend to ensure smooth operations and spot potential challenges.
The clinic effort started in January, when the City of Newburyport obtained 800 Moderna doses. During six clinics, two in Newburyport and four in West Newbury, first responders and and residents age 75 and older received the two-shot regimen.Last weekend’s clinic, 12 hours total, administered 3,143 Pfizer doses. The previous weekend clinic, totaling 16 hours, administered more than 4,050 doses with no waste.
“When you grow by that many times, you can have that many more times the problems,” Sevigny says.
Sevigny and Berkenbush convene a Monday video chat to review the weekend, hear from key team members about which systems worked and which can be improved upon, brainstorm solutions and begin planning for the coming weekend’s clinics. The rest of the week is spent executing those plans, through Friday night when the clinic is set up again. The goal is continuous improvement.
Change is a constant. Canopy tents were added at the outdoor screening to protect clients from Saturday’s rain. Space heaters were brought in to fight off the cold, ensuring that outdoor volunteers remained comfortable.
Other challenges require planning and reassessment. Volunteers with internet technology experience were sought because client registration and processing needs grew and tested Amesbury High School’s network.
In the early weeks, the observation area regularly filled, and some newly vaccinated people had to wait for a seat. “Some people hadn’t been out in a while. They were just having a nice time,” and overstaying their 15-minute medical wait, Chief Berkenbush said. The team’s solution: Observation area volunteers now call out dismissal times every minute, increasing turnover.
The team also revamped its waitlist callback system to fill open appointments, because vaccines have become more readily available, and the number of no-shows/cancellations have risen. This step ensures no dose is wasted.
The first clinic operated with about 25 volunteers. Now more than 200 people volunteer on a weekend and are assigned one of 11 specific tasks from greeter to medical scribe.
Streamlining operations has cut average vaccination times from four minutes per person about three minutes, enabling the clinic to vaccinate about one-third more people per day. The clinic passed 19,000 total vaccinations on Sunday.
The clinic is successful because of a simple focus: Put a good team on the field, provide a lot of support, and collaborate.
“It takes a village,” Sevigny says. “It takes great staff, dedicated volunteers, everybody.”
Erin Rich, Director of Volunteer Services, adds, “When a problem arises, everyone collaborates. We’re all asking, ‘What’s the best solution.’ That’s a big part of it.”
Patients leave with a smile, and often with praise for the clinic’s speed, efficiency, and professionalism.
“In the end people see everything went smoothly. It promotes a general feeling of wellness,” Chief Berkenbush said.
The Lower Merrimack Valley Regional Collaborative comprises Amesbury, Georgetown, Groveland, Merrimac, Newbury, Newburyport, Rowley, Salisbury, and West Newbury.
JGPR is providing communications services to this effort on a pro bono basis.