An effort by Hospice Savannah to access vaccines for their staff has led to the organization’s establishment of a mass vaccine site that serves their entire community. In addition to smaller vaccine clinics throughout the week, the hospice inoculates about 700 people per day at their larger site.
CEO Kathleen Benton, who holds a doctorate in public health, had initial discussions with the Georgia state Department of Health to advocate for hospice staff to be placed on the priority list for vaccine distribution. The lion’s share of vaccines allocated to health care workers was going to hospitals and skilled nursing facilities. This line of communication bore fruit when Hospice Savannah staff were able to receive vaccines during the first week they became available.
“That started a relationship. Distributing in the vaccine was a logistics nightmare for the Department of Health, and I was becoming very concerned about our community,” Benton told Hospice News. “So I told them, if you need clinicians, if you need help, we are right here.”
When other vaccine sites in the area became overwhelmed with volume, the state agency did contact Hospice Savannah and request they open a site. The hospice mobilized its clinical staff and IT staff to move this forward as quickly as possible. They implemented a DocuSign system and set up electronic entry and documentation of the patient’s informed consent, obtained supplies and equipment and scheduled staff to run the program.
Patients could submit necessary documents using their cell phones or on a tablet device provided by Hospice Savannah. The system also transmitted the vaccination documentation directly to the Department of Health.
The hospice was able to enlist nursing and medical students from nearby colleges to back up their own staff at the vaccine site. In Georgia, some nursing and medical students have clinical privileges to administer injections. The site is open on Fridays, with smaller clinics open during the week.
“Academic institutions have partnered with us, like Savannah Tech, from a facility standpoint,” Benton said. “Then we’ve had other businesses in town that have been willing to come in and help with logistics, and carry some of the costs and bring in food for volunteers.”
Hospice Savannah assumed much of the costs of setting up the vaccine site. This included purchasing tablets, refrigerators to keep doses temperature controlled, tables and chairs, expanded services such as DocuSign, among other expenses that include staff time. Benton herself has been devoting about 20 hours a week to this effort, as have many of the organizations’ staff and executives.
The hospice is not likely to recoup these expenditures. They may use a portion of their Provider Relief Funds to offset the costs, but the bulk of that money has already been accounted for, according to Benton. While they may eventually have the option to bill vaccine recipients’ insurance companies, the cost to file and process those claims would likely to exceed what they would have earned.
To date, three large drugmakers have produced COVID-19 vaccines: British-based pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca (NASDAQ: AZN), Massachusetts-based Moderna Inc. (NASDAQ: MRNA) and pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) in partnership with German BioNTech SE (NASDAQ: BNTX).
Hospice Savannah responded quickly to the COVID-19 crisis. In the early weeks of the pandemic, the organization established, renovated and opened a dedicated inpatient unit for COVID-positive patients. They accomplished this in a matter of days.
The hospice may soon open a second mass vaccine site at the health department’s request.
“We nonprofits are community-based hospices, Benton told Hospice News. “We really do have the mechanisms and the brains and infrastructure to do this. I would encourage other hospices and like-minded partners to make sure that they are contributing.”