One by one, health care providers from AtlantiCare’s two medical centers went through the lines at the health system’s Atlantic City campus and received the first shots of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday afternoon.
There were 55 workers on the first day, with hundreds more scheduled for Wednesday — the start of an effort to vaccinate about 1,000 employees a week until the system reaches more than 6,000 employees and associates who make up the first segment of the population to get the shot.
But, while everyone has seen the videos and pictures of health-care providers across the state and the country getting the first shots, the process is more than just the one-on-one effort shown on the screen. The logistics and teamwork needed to run such a program are enormous and have perhaps been overlooked by a public so eager to get past the pandemic.
AtlantiCare CEO Lori Herndon appreciates the challenge. That’s why she was so impressed after her staff handled the opening day.
“We had to work on, as everybody did, just how to do the registration, the documentation, the technology and IT side of this — and then all of the processes it would take with COVID to be able to create a safe environment,” she said.
The shot, Herndon said, was just the start. Staff needed to monitor all those who got the injection for 15 minutes to make sure there were no immediate issues. Then came perhaps the most important part.
“We had to make sure that they schedule their next appointment,” she said.
The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses — something that will make the process more difficult as the days go on. After watching her team work Tuesday — what she called a “soft opening” — Herndon said she is confident AtlantiCare can handle it.
“When you think about the logistics and the processes that are required for what we did today, what everybody did, what everybody’s going to need to do, it’s incredible,” she said. “We moved along pretty quickly. We may be able to see more people per hour than what we had initially thought. So, our first experience has been a good one.”
Teamwork has been a big part of the COVID experience for hospitals. And it’s not just the all-hands-on-deck experience within the walls of the medical centers, but a collaboration among systems in their respective regions and around the state.
Read more from ROI-NJ on the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine:
- From front line to first in line: Top docs eager to get vaccine, show public it is safe
- Day One: A look at hopes, fears (and processes) at Atlantic Health during rollout of COVID-19 vaccine
- Recovery has started: Newark nurse is 1st in N.J. to get Pfizer’s COVID vaccine
- Hospital CEOs celebrate historic day, but encourage continued vigilance — as well as need to get vaccinated
“New Jersey is a busy, complicated state,” Herndon said. “But many of us in health care have been in this for a while, and we know each other. Our leadership teams know each other, and the camaraderie and the support and the efforts that have gone on behind the scenes, I think would warm the hearts of our communities in knowing that we are putting aside what might be some competitive environments to just come together and work together the best we can.”
Communication, Herndon said, has been a constant.
“Every day in southeastern New Jersey, the CEOs email each other detailing where we are and answer questions,” she said. “Today, we had one of our calls, just checking in. We compare our policies, we discuss and debate things we think we need to do.
“So, behind the scenes, that’s been helpful professionally, but also emotionally for me to know that there’s a bigger team here in our in our southern region that is here to help in the event that we need to help each other.”
For all the logistical challenges in the building, organizing the public response outside of it may be just as great.
Herndon — like all health care officials in the state — is actively and vociferously voicing her support for the vaccines.
“I think every health care leader in the state or the country has that same worries: What is it that we can do and say and role model that will help encourage individuals?” she said. “I recognize it’s an individual decision, but I want people to know what I think the pros and cons are to take the vaccine and have a healthy discussion — an educational debate, if you will — so that we can get as many people vaccinated as possible.
“Where I sit, I don’t see us changing the trajectory of this virus without an aggressive and engaged community. There needs to be a recognition that the vaccine holds the keys to what we hold dear, which is our health and our future and the future of our economy, as well.”
Herndon said she’s actively playing a part in this, too.
“I was on a call today with a leadership group here in Atlantic County,” she said. “It was all business leaders and community leaders. I said, ‘If you need help explaining to your segment of the population, call me, email me.’
“We have a talented group of professionals, infectious disease and infection prevention specialists, who know this. This is what they do every day. They really know the ins and outs of all the science that has been shared with all of us.
“I told them, ‘Let us help answer your questions, provide our expertise and, hopefully, give you the information you need to make your personal choice.’”