'It takes a community'

It takes a community

Highlands Hospital pharmacist Matt Mascia is thankful for all the volunteers who have come out to help at the recent COVID-19 vaccination clinics.

“It takes a community,” Mascia said Wednesday as he glanced around the Connellsville Township Volunteer Fire Department hall, where Highlands was sponsoring yet another clinic.

Mascia said 1,150 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine were expected to be administered Wednesday.

Volunteers came from various groups, including local physicians, nurses, hospital staff members, physician assistants and more.

A group of ladies from the St. Aloysius Rosary Altar Society was on hand to help with registration.

Tammy Nedrow, administrative assistant for Fayette County Commissioner Scott Dunn, said the ladies will also help arrange appointments for people listed on the Fayette County COVID-19 Task Force registry for Highlands’ next first-dose clinic in April.

Volunteers are essential to the operation, Mascia and Nedrow indicated.

Mascia said anyone willing and qualified to administer injections should call the hospital.

Nedrow encouraged organizations willing to volunteer for the process to call her at 724-430-1200, ext. 1610 or contact Muriel Nuttal at the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce.

Nedrow and Mascia said clinics have been supported by community members as well such organizations as the fire department, which provided its hall for clinic use, and such businesses as Clubhouse Pizza and Amedisys, which provided lunch and refreshments for volunteers.

“Everyone is coming together,” Mascia said.

Mascia said without the volunteer assistance, Highlands would be lucky to administer 500 shots.

“That might be once a week, and that would be very taxing for us to pull together,” he said. “It’s a lot of manpower, from scheduling calls and then running the clinic itself.”

In addition to the clinic work on site, every shot administered requires Highlands to input consent information into the Pennsylvania system within 24 hours, Mascia said.

That job is handled by Highlands employees.

“It’s difficult because we are small, and we are staffed just to do our normal jobs and none of this is normal,” he said of the clinic responsibilities. “That’s why we rely on the volunteers. We can only pull so many people from the hospital without crippling the hospital.

“But at the end of day, we feel we have a duty to help the community in any way we can. These people are our family and our neighbors. We will keep plugging our way through.”

Mascia said not all vaccinations had been scheduled for Wednesday’s clinic, so it was opened up to 450 walk-ins in the 1A designation. Those spots went quickly.

Wednesday’s first-dose clinic was the fourth for the hospital. Two were at Connellsville Area Senior High School and a third at the Masonic Lodge in Bullskin Township.

Mascia said vaccinations were also administered in-house.

It has been a learning experience and one that has occupied much time for Mascia and other hospital staff members.

“Sometimes, there’s just not enough hours in the week. It’s a very large undertaking,” said the pharmacist, who is lead planner for the hospital’s clinics. “And I’ve learned to expect the unexpected.”

Highlands draws its appointments from the Fayette County COVID-19 Task Force registry, which was established to provide a database for those conducting clinics. And it worked.

But with residents adding their names to more than one list and vaccination providers ramping up distribution, Fayette task force schedulers are having to make twice as many phone calls.

While that’s good because it means people are being vaccinated and leaving the county list, Mascia said it does make scheduling and planning more difficult.

Mascia said the state would like all those in the 1A category to be scheduled for vaccinations by month’s end, although it is not a mandate.

Mascia said anyone in 1A who is not on the registry and wants to be vaccinated should add their names to the list. Those in the B phase are also encouraged to register.

The county is exhausting its list, which is good, Mascia said.

He said as of yesterday about 3,000 names remained on the list.

“Uniontown is doing 3,000 shots next week,” he said of WVU Medicine Uniontown Hospital. “They will probably clean out the list.”

The state wants to start the vaccination process for those in Phase 1B at the same time. Mascia believes that might be soon.

The Highlands pharmacist said with three vaccines available now, some people might be trying to pick the one they want.

“Some people want Johnson & Johnson because it’s a one shot,” Mascia said. “Some people don’t want it because of religious reasons. Some people only want Pfizer because of the studies.

“ … But, my advice, the first vaccine you are offered should be the one you try to get unless you have a real reason not to. All are proven effective and evaluated by the FDA.”