Alpena hospital delivers at-home vaccinations to residents
ALPENA — Early Friday, Team Oz stood on the front stoop of a modest Alpena home, blue duffel bags hanging from their shoulders.
In the bags, glass vials held doses of arguably the most precious liquid in the country.
The result of collaboration and a zeal to protect the community, a mobilization effort carried COVID-19 vaccines to Alpena doorsteps on Friday — a clinic on wheels, reaching people who may otherwise not have been able to bare their arms for a vaccination.
With names evocative of exciting journeys — Odysseus, Oz, Timbuktu, Marco, and Polo — five two-person teams set out from MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena, delivering 50 vaccine doses to area residents’ homes.
Team members hailed from all parts of the hospital — behavioral health, pediatrics, pharmacy, administration.
They’d each worked vaccination clinics before, but this was the first time the hospital transported precious vaccinations into people’s homes.
At the Alpena home of Naomi and Alden Kirschner, hospital President Chuck Sherwin filled a syringe with vaccine.
A registered nurse, Sherwin has worked at several vaccination clinics since the first COVID-19 vaccine dose was administered in Alpena in mid-December. Friday was the first time he administered the vaccine himself, though.
“You said we were the first, and I thought you needed a little more practice,” Alden Kirschner quipped.
Vaccination clinics in town have run smoothly and efficiently, according to Ann Diamond, director of fund development for MidMichigan Health Foundation and the other half of Team Oz.
Still, physical limitations — Naomi uses a walker and can’t stand very long, and Alden is blind — have kept the Kirschners from being vaccinated, though they qualified months ago.
“When they called, I thought, ‘Oh, this is an answered prayer,'” Naomi Kirschner said.
MidMichigan Health, which owns MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena, is among 22 pilot project participants in the state to receive extra vaccines, according to Sherwin.
Hospital administration decided at least some of those extra vaccines should go in the arms of people who wanted them, but couldn’t come get them.
Collaboration with District Health Department No. 2, which serves Alcona, Iosco, Ogemaw, and Oscoda counties, netted the hospital 50 doses of the one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine, carefully packed in the hospital-logoed blue bags.
Alden Kirschner didn’t flinch as Sherwin administered the vaccine. He hasn’t been worried about getting sick, Kirschner said.
Still, he’s looking forward to going to a restaurant for a cup of coffee without “masked men running around,” Kirschner said.
“I can call my grandson and tell him he can come now,” Naomi Kirschner said, chatting with the medical workers as they lingered in the living room to make sure the couple didn’t have any adverse reactions.
Alpena County has done a great job stepping up for vaccinations, Sherwin told the couple.
As of Friday, nearly 42% of Alpena County residents had received at least a first dose of vaccine, according to state data.
Presque Isle County on Friday had the highest vaccination coverage metrics in the state, with just shy of 50% of its residents vaccinated. Montmorency and Alcona counties were also in the upper tier of coverage.
Other communities have been slowed in their efforts as some argued who should be next in line for vaccinations, Sherwin said.
“We’ve said, gosh, if Alden came in and said he wanted a vaccine, we’re going to say yes,” Sherwin said. “If we have the dose, we’re going to give it.”
More in-home vaccinations are a possibility, Sherwin said. Recipients for Friday’s mobile clinic were identified through a partnership with the Alpena Senior Citizens Center’s Meals on Wheels program. Vaccine teams even followed Meals on Wheels routes to deliver doses efficiently.
Sherwin hopes to collaborate with other organizations to identify more adults unable to attend clinics in person.
Naomi Kirschner thanked Sherwin and Diamond for bringing the vaccine to her living room so she can be out in public again. It’ll be nice, she teased, getting to see someone other than her husband.
“Well, he’s the best-looking one,” Sherwin jabbed.
“No, the dog is,” the wife said, laughing with her caregivers.
Leaving behind one blue bag holding information, some free supplies, and bottled water, Team Oz headed to their car, on their way to the next front door.