Watsonville, CA – During a time of growing concern over the inequity of COVID-19 vaccination distribution, Dignity Health-Dominican Hospital of Santa Cruz took special care to reach out to essential workers who might otherwise have been overlooked. The hospital oversaw the vaccination of roughly 1,100 agriculture workers in Watsonville, California.
Dr. Nanette Mickiewicz, President and CEO of Dominican Hospital, said the hospital received vaccine from CommonSpirit Health, its healthcare system. After vaccinating its healthcare partners and employees, Dominican Hospital was directed to use the excess vaccine within seven days.
The hospital’s Director of Community Benefits, Dominique Hollister, reached out to the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau and the California Strawberry Commission. “They had been working on a plan to prioritize vaccinations so that when they became available, it would be easy to distribute them,” Nan said. “We decided to try from an equity standpoint to get [the vaccine] to the county. We’ve seen a disproportionate number of people who got COVID-19 from here because of the close quarters.”
Much of the groundwork had already been laid by the Farm Bureau and the Strawberry Commission, who had compiled a list of people in Watsonville who needed to be vaccinated. “We got them all in our computer system, as many as we could,” Nan explained.
“It was an amazing outpouring of service,” Nan said. A crew of volunteer physicians and nurses went to Casserly Hall in Watsonville to vaccinate the agriculture workers during a two-day clinic, she explained. In addition, 13 volunteers from the community registered the patients outside of the hall. While the agriculture workers stayed in the hall for 15 minutes after being vaccinated, doctors and nurses monitored them for possible reactions to the vaccine.
The volunteers who ran the vaccination clinic were also attentive to the special needs of the agriculture workers. All of the information on the vaccines was in Spanish as well as in English, and some volunteers were able to communicate with patients who didn’t speak standard Spanish. Volunteers also helped those who couldn’t read.
During the clinic, participants were also given appointments to receive the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. In most cases, Nan said, the agriculture workers were brought to the clinic by their employers, who will make sure that they return for their second dose.
The agriculture workers are not the only special group that Dominican Hospital has vaccinated. Recently, volunteers from the hospital also vaccinated 600-700 pre-school to first-grade teachers at the request of the Superintendent of Schools, who approached Nan during the clinic for the agriculture workers.
Vaccination of the teachers in the lower grades would allow the schools to be opened up, Nan said. “It would be amazing to have children back in school,” she said. “We have a lot of employees who left the work force or took a leave of absence because they had to teach their children at home.”
Nan, her husband, and other physicians from Dominican Hospital also spent New Year’s Eve vaccinating about 100 residents of Dominican Oaks, a retirement apartment complex behind the hospital.
“We are trying to be targeted in our approach,” Nan explained. “We work with the health officer to make sure we don’t get too far ahead.”
Dominican Hospital has been using the Pfizer vaccine. “Pfizer is very challenging because of the temperatures that are involved,” storage at about 70 degrees Centigrade, Nan explained. “Our goal is to wind down our vaccination efforts in the next few weeks and pass the baton on to doctors’ offices.” The doctors’ offices will use the Moderna vaccine, which doesn’t require storage at such low temperatures, she added.
Nan said the hospital’s efforts in vaccinating populations such as the agriculture workers are very consistent with its mission. “We’ve been here 80 years,” she said. “Our mission is always to take care of the community, including our disenfranchised community members. That’s why we wanted to do outreach – to get to people who might not necessarily have access to the vaccine.”
Nan said she is especially gratified by the attitude of the physicians and other employees. “They want to keep this going,” she said. “They believe in the mission.”
Founded and long sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters, Dominican Hospital is now a part of the CommonSpirit Health, a Catholic healthcare system created in February 2019 through the alignment of Catholic Health Initiatives and Dignity Health. The Adrian Dominican Congregation is now one of 16 participating congregations of women religious with connections to CommonSpirit.