SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — The first call came mid-December. Members of Sullivan County’s widely dispersed volunteer ambulance corps were notified that personnel were about to be approved for …
SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — The first call came mid-December. Members of Sullivan County’s widely dispersed volunteer ambulance corps were notified that personnel were about to be approved for COVID-19 vaccinations. A survey was in progress that would provide the NY State Department of Health (DOH) with an estimate of how many additional doses would need to be available.
And then, on December 23, around 2 a.m., the state emailed Alex Rau, Sullivan County 911 and emergency medical services (EMS) coordinator, that the Moderna vaccine was available. By 8 a.m., ambulance corps officers, including the Eldred-based American Legion Volunteer Ambulance, were scrambling to alert members and schedule them for shots.
“I was notified by my supervisor that I was scheduled to get a shot on December 23,” said Mike Sherwood, an American Legion EMT and operating room nurse anesthetist at Garnet Health. “Word had just come to the county. From my perspective, I was impressed by how professional everything went. I had no reservations and would encourage anybody to get the vaccine. There was no downside, no effects or symptoms.”
In the following few days, thousands of doses were given in the shortest possible time to ICU and ER hospital workers, coroners, funeral workers and urgent care providers. By all reports, including this reporter who is a driver for the corps, all went smoothly. The general perception of the EMS personnel who were vaccinated was that they were part of an efficient and professional operation.
Rolland “Boomer” Bojo Jr., Garnet Health Patient Care Services and Chief Nursing Officer vice president, attributed it to being prepared. “We have always had a ‘pandemic plan’ that we have worked on, kept up to date and [practiced] some drills on.”
The plan involved coordinating with public health, the county emergency management team, and fire and EMS departments and corps. “I think people, in general, don’t really realize, at times like these, how important relationships are and how important teamwork is,” Rolland said.
Rau agreed, saying, “I have been working closely with Boomer and CEO Jonathan Schiller of Garnet Health Medical Center. The key to success of the vaccine distribution has been the network and relationships that are in place with the hospital staff and administrators.”
Distribution went as planned, Rau said. “Garnet Health Catskills received the vaccines from [the New York Department of Health] and was tasked with distribution. About the third week in December, they contacted me and asked me to alert our ambulance corps. Prior to that, I had asked the various captains to canvas their membership to find out how many vaccines would be needed. That number was about 100. I’m happy to say that around the first week of January, Garnet Health confirmed that there [were] enough vaccine[s] to go around.”
While there are somewhere between 350 to 400 EMS personnel in the county, not all of them are active members and, therefore, are not eligible for a vaccine. Additionally, some were not eligible for health reasons or are uncomfortable with getting vaccinated.
Linda Anderson, a registered nurse and EMT instructor and training officer for American Legion Volunteer Ambulance, was one of those not getting the shot. “I couldn’t take it because I have multiple allergies and bad reactions. We did have 11 people who took the vaccine, which is a good percentage of our active membership. Some were uncertain and others could not commit to returning within the necessary time frame. My function was to record who got the shots and what [if any] reactions they had.”
New York State began scheduling vaccinations for “Phase 1b” on January 11. About 3.2 million additional New Yorkers will now be eligible. This will include senior citizens aged 75 and up, education workers, first responders, public transit workers and public safety officers.