Dr. Scott Elliott, Watauga County Schools Superintendent, received his vaccine along with his wife Laura, a middle school teacher at Parkway School. Linda Campbell, CRNA administers the shot.
A collective sigh of relief was heard among Watauga County’s teachers and public school employees as they received their first COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday, February 24 at the Watauga Community Recreation Center.
Earlier this month, Governor Roy Cooper announced that childcare workers and pre-K to 12th grade school employees would be eligible for the vaccine under Group 3 of the state’s phased rollout process.
Sean Burroughs, Director of Pharmacy for ARHS said, “I’m so pleased with the progress of our community’s vaccine roll out to the senior population, and thrilled to be able to vaccinate K-12 Watauga school employees and childcare workers this week.”
ARHS and AppHealthCare were able to vaccinate nearly 600 childcare and school employees in a single day, due to the spacious and easy-to-access location at the Recreation Center. Those who didn’t receive their shot this week will be eligible to sign up for future clinics through ARHS or AppHealthcare.
“It’s incredibly exciting to know that we’ve made it this far, and that we are able to provide this level of protection for our teachers and staff,” said Dr. Scott Elliott, Watauga County Schools Superintendent, who received his vaccine along with his wife Laura, a middle school teacher at Parkway School.
“I cannot thank ARHS and AppHealthCare enough for their great partnership, their advocacy for our educators, and for making this so easy,” Elliott continued. “With every educator who is vaccinated we add another layer of protection for our entire community. Suddenly it feels like we’re beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Parkway teacher Lauren Collier is vaccinated by Lance Campbell, CRNA, while son, John, documents the occasion.
Traci Hartley, Data Manager at Valle Crucis is vaccinated by Michelle Dollar, RN, BSN, of ARHS.
Parkway School teacher Lauren Collier came to the clinic with her son, John, in tow. “I feel great!” she said. “It feels great knowing that I am doing everything I can to help us as a community move through this pandemic. Knowing that this step will keep my son and family, my colleagues, and my students safe is important. I am blessed for this opportunity.”
Traci Hartley, Data Manager at Valle Crucis said, “I am so grateful and excited for this opportunity. I was shocked that it’s happening so fast. I have two very high-risk family members that we protect.” Hartley’s husband is a cancer survivor and her daughter has Cystic Fibrosis.
Scott Carter, Principal at Cove Creek school was vaccinated with his wife, also a Watauga County Schools employee. “I am excited to protect our teachers and to bring kids back safely to our schools,” he said. “We have missed them terribly. I’m also very ready to see my great grandmother who lives in a nursing home. Hardin Park teacher Corrie Freeman said she was feeling hopeful. “This is an avenue back to normal for my kids, me and our community. I feel like I can take a deep breath. I just appreciate all the volunteers, ARHS and AppHealthCare for being here today and helping us do this together. This whole operation is very impressive.”
School nurses Ashley Greene (Parkway) and Amanda Combs (Cove Creek) were on site, along with the county’s other school nurses, helping to give vaccinations. Both were honored to be a part of the effort. “It’s amazing to be here and to witness teachers being vaccinated in addition to kids coming back to our schools. It’s a comfort – we are going to be ok!” Combs said.
School employees across the state proudly posted their vaccine photos on social media using the hashtag #sleevesup4students.
ARHS vaccinated about 400 people at Watauga County Community Recreation Center on February 3.
February 12, 2021
There’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon for the fight against COVID-19. Vaccines have been rolling out for those most vulnerable, and healthcare workers say vaccination is the number one thing we can do right now to save lives and slow the spread.
Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS) began its COVID-19 vaccination clinics in January and they are fully underway for first and second doses. Community members in Groups 1 and 2 of North Carolina’s rollout plan are currently receiving vaccines – frontline healthcare workers and those age 65 and over.
As of February 5, ARHS has given a total of 3,504 first-dose vaccines and has used 100% of the supply it has received from the state. After a drastic reduction in weekly supply to Watauga County, only 190 first-dose vaccines were scheduled for the week of February 8-12 through ARHS.
Wednesday, Governor Cooper announced a plan to move into Group 3 soon to include teachers, principals, childcare providers, bus drivers, custodial staff, cafeteria workers, and other education workers in pre-K through 12 schools and childcare centers.
But with supplies so limited, the healthcare system is concerned about adding this group to the already long list of those 65 and older waiting their turn. According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), people age 65 and older account for 70% of hospitalizations and 83% of deaths in the state.
“We are administering the vaccines as fast as we receive them from the state. We are ready to handle several times the number of appointments we currently have; all we need are the doses in order to scale up our efforts and vaccinate more people,” said Chuck Mantooth, President and CEO of ARHS.
Latino Health Program’s Dinora Hernandez (back left) and bilingual volunteer Brent James (back right) assisted hispanic community members. Several other bilingual volunteers were on hand to help.
Thanks to a partnership with Watauga County Parks and Recreation, ARHS is using the Watauga County Community Recreation Center building. They have plenty of space, plenty of staff, and plenty of volunteers. What they need now are the vaccines.
“With the system and patient flow we have set up, we could easily administer 1,000 first doses and 1,000 second doses per week or more,” said Sean Burroughs, Director of Pharmacy at ARHS.
A total of 75 community volunteers have assisted with the Recreation Center clinics so far, and many more want to help. Most volunteer spots are full because of the limited supply, but the healthcare system is hoping to be able to schedule more clinics and use more people in these roles.
Volunteer Mary Scott served by escorting patients to their vaccine station after check-in. “The conversations I have had with people during these clinics has been so wonderful. I enjoy talking with folks and helping them feel more comfortable about the whole process. Several people told me how they were so impressed with how organized, relaxed and friendly everyone was,” she said.
ARHS continues to work together with the Appalachian District Health Department (AppHealthCare) and state health officials to formulate a plan for Group 3 vaccinations when the time comes.
For more information about ARHS’s COVID-19 efforts, including testing and vaccines, visit apprhs.org/covid19.
[Left to Right] ARHS President and CEO Chuck Mantooth with Sean Burroughs Director of Pharmacy, and LaRaye Ruducile, Director of Population Health and Clinical Operations, as they prepare vaccinations.
Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS) held its first COVID-19 vaccine clinic on Monday, January 11 for their patients who qualify according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) four-phase rollout plan. North Carolina is currently in phase 1b, group 1, which includes all adults 75 years or older.
“Right now, we’re asking those younger than 75 years of age not to sign up for a vaccine clinic meant for older folks,” said Chuck Mantooth, President and CEO of ARHS. “It’s so important that we vaccinate the most vulnerable among us first, and the state of North Carolina has made it clear that anyone who wants a vaccine will eventually be able to get one.”
Bryan Payne, ARHS Senior Director of Organizational Effectiveness, explains the procedure and potential side effects before Paul and Carol McCubbins receive their vaccinations.
Phase 1b includes the following groups:
Group 1: Anyone 75 years or older, regardless of health status or living situation
Group 2: Health care workers and frontline essential workers 50 years or older
Group 3: Health care workers and frontline essential workers of any age
The CDC defines frontline essential workers as first responders (e.g., firefighters and police officers), corrections officers, food and agricultural workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, and those who work in the education sector (teachers and support staff members) as well as child care workers.
Michele McCubbins brought her parents, Paul and Carol to the first vaccine clinic at AppFamily Medicine in Boone. “I am just so excited for the opportunity to protect my parents with this vaccine,” she said.
Dr. Anderson vaccinates Katie Lineback at AppFamily Medicine
ARHS staff members and providers are volunteering to participate in vaccination efforts. Steven Anderson, MD, orthopedic surgeon at AppOrtho, vaccinated Katie Lineback, whose husband had undergone knee surgery with him previously. She was delighted to see a familiar face.
Appalachian Regional Healthcare System’s first COVID-19 vaccines were administered on Tuesday, December 22 at Watauga Medical Center. Occupational health nurse, Crystal Minton, RN, vaccinated Kevin Wolfe, MD, a pulmonologist who is treating COVID patients at the hospital, followed by Emergency Department nurse Madison Bakken, RN.
Kevin W. Wolfe, MD, Pulmonologist Watauga Medical Center, receives the vaccine from ARHS Occupational Health Nurse Crystal Minton.
“We feel so fortunate to be able to begin vaccinating our frontline workers who are taking care of COVID patients each day,” said Chuck Mantooth, President and CEO of ARHS. “Protecting them means they will stay healthy and continue to be available for the community.”
There was an air of excitement in the room as Dr. Wolfe received his dose, and those within view erupted in applause. Many healthcare workers see these vaccinations as a first step in defeating this virus, and have a renewed sense of hope.
When asked why Dr. Wolfe decided to take the vaccine, he stated, “When you look at the risk and you look at the benefit of taking the vaccination, I believe the benefits far outweigh the risks.” Dr. Wolfe is proud to be a role model for the rest of the community in taking this important step to fight the pandemic.
Madison Bakken, RN, Emergency Department Watauga Medical Center receives the vaccine
“I’m incredibly honored to have had this opportunity,” said Bakken. “Today is the first glimmer of hope for us in this dark year.” Madison said she is proud to receive the vaccine in support of her fellow healthcare workers and excited that one day soon she may be able to safely embrace her parents and loved ones again.
The State of North Carolina’s plan to distribute COVID-19 vaccines
North Carolina is currently in Phase 1a of the state’s four-phase plan, which calls for vaccines to be available to healthcare workers and long-term care staff and residents. Phase 1b calls for vaccinating adults at highest risk of severe illness and those at highest risk for exposure according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS). Those seeking more information about the state vaccine distribution plan should visit covid19.ncdhhs.gov/vaccines.
For more information about the ARHS COVID-19 situation, including testing and vaccination, visit: apprhs.org/covid19/.
In response to a drastic increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations at Watauga Medical Center (WMC), Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS) is asking for the community’s help.
On Monday, December 7, WMC had almost 80% of its COVID-19 beds occupied. “It’s certainly alarming when 27 of 34 available COVID-19 beds are full,” said Rob Hudspeth, Sr. Vice President for System Advancement for ARHS. “This week we opened 10 new COVID-19 beds, but we are now concerned that even 34 may not be enough,” he added.
As COVID-19 hospitalizations increase, the impact has a rippling effect on all hospital resources. Although ARHS has been stockpiling supplies since January, drastic surges in COVID-19 hospitalizations have caused it to use PPE, equipment and supplies at a much faster rate.
At the same time, non-COVID-19 hospital admissions are also increasing because many people with chronic and acute conditions are delaying routine healthcare. “So often now, when patients arrive at the Emergency Department they are sicker and require hospitalization, which strains our resources even more. Obviously more people in hospital beds, means our staff are working more shifts. Their commitment to caring for our community has been remarkable. But we all need to be really concerned that our front line staff doesn’t experience extreme fatigue and burnout,” he added.
Among the most concerning trends for ARHS is the number of hospitalizations across the region. Two critical elements of ARHS’s original surge plan involved using critical care contract staffing and transferring appropriate patients to other hospitals. However, regional conference calls with other healthcare systems this week have revealed that very few contract staffing opportunities exist and the ability to transfer patients is non-existent. “Given that other hospitals are experiencing similar surges, it will be difficult to hire contract labor or transfer patients. So we fully expect this to be a series of challenges we’ll have to solve on our own,” Hudspeth added.
What Can the Community Do to Help?
Practice the 3Ws: Wear a mask, wash your hands often, and wait six feet apart
Manage your health: Take your medications and do not delay medical care
Get a flu shot to protect yourself and those around you
Coretta Scott King once said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” If her theory is correct, then the High Country community is among the greatest.
Like the rest of America’s healthcare systems, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges and unimaginable scenarios for Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS). While ARHS healthcare professionals worked the front line, local businesses, organizations and individuals immediately stepped up to help.
Avery County Emergency Services Parade at Cannon Memorial Hospital
They donated Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as N-95 masks, face shields, hand-sewn face coverings, hand sanitizer, and protective suits. They dropped off food, treats and special meals for employees. They offered special discounts or perks to ARHS employees, such as free soft drinks at their establishments. The Watauga and Avery County first responders and emergency personnel even paraded by Watauga Medical Center and Cannon Memorial Hospital in a show of solidarity and support.
The healthcare team at ARHS has always stood ready to take care of the community. But it was profoundly touching when the community repeatedly came forward to help take care of them. For that support, the more than 1400 ARHS employees are forever grateful. It serves as a reminder that everyone is in this together, and ARHS is fortunate to be part of a community that feels that – and acts upon it.
The Appalachian Regional Healthcare Foundation and Employee Assistance Program worked with the following generous businesses, organizations and individuals who have shown support through donations of supplies and food. Everyone at ARHS would like to say a hearty “THANK YOU.”
The pandemic is not over yet. But one thing is certain: the High Country community will continue to come together as one in times of trial.
App State Athletics
ASU Beaver College of Health Sciences – Nursing Department
ASU Chemistry Department
Art of Oil
Avery High School
Blue Ridge Energies
Boone Girl Scout Troop 13115
Call Family Distillers
College Foundation of North Carolina
Cranberry Middle School
Creative Printing and Internet Services
Daniel Boone Inn
Frontier Natural Gas
Adam Hill, DDS
Hope Pregnancy Center
Kentucky Fried Chicken
Mast General Store
Mayland Community College
NC Department of Transportation
Premier Sotheby’s International Realty – Banner Elk
Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church
Valerie Rush and Team
Nicole Scheffler, DDS
Wilkes Community College
Countless individuals who made and donated masks
Many businesses who offered us special discounts or free drinks.