Tomah Health has joined with the Monroe County Health Dept. to provide the COVID-19 vaccine to area health care employees and essential workers.
“As a phase 1 vaccinator for the state of Wisconsin, we are working at partnering with the Monroe County Health Department to reach out to all health care providers in the county to provide the vaccine,” said Tomah Health employee health nurse Julie Anderson, MSN, RN.
Anderson said the hospital has vaccinated more than 300 people, including just over 200 Tomah Health employees with the Moderna vaccine. “As a hospital wanting to vaccinate our own health care workers, we applied for a Phase 1A application to get the vaccine here and give it out at the hospital. Once we got through our own staff, we recognized that there was an opportunity to assist Monroe County,” Anderson explained. “Tomah Health has always been an important player in the community, and when it came time for COVID vaccinations, it just made sense to work with the health department and use our mutual relationship in order to coordinate as many people as we can to get vaccinated.”
Monroe County Health Dept. Health Officer and Director Tiffany Giesler, RN, said the partnership is crucial to get the vaccine distributed. “No one organization can do this by themselves, so having this partnership is the only way we are going to get everybody who needs the vaccine and wants the vaccine to be vaccinated. This partnership with Tomah Health is crucial for us to get the COVID vaccine out to everybody,” said Giesler, who has been with the health department about three years and stepped into the director’s position Dec. 28 replacing director Sharon Nelson who retired after 35 years. “It’s a very interesting time taking over in the middle of a pandemic. I am fortunate that we have a wonderful community with lots of support and a great staff,” Geisler said. “We are moving into a transition period where we are with the vaccine, so I guess it’s a good time for that transition for the health officer – director position too,” she said. “We still are learning a lot about this virus so we still need to continue our standard practices even with a vaccination. The more we learn and the better protected we are – we will be able to serve our community better.”
Anderson said hospital employee health dept. staff has already vaccinated health care workers, some long-term care staff and residents, along with employees from area dental clinics, social workers and area emergency medical services (EMS) staff that are part of the Phase 1A group of people, which is expected to continue over the next few months. “There are some estimates that we might get there by the end of February,” Anderson added.
She said the Phase 1 rollout also includes 1B essential workers like public health & safety, transportation, communications, financial, food & agriculture, information technology and other critical infrastructure services. The first phase also includes 1C individuals with underlying health conditions and residents 65 years and over who are considered a higher risk for severe illness based on age or health history.
Anderson said Phase 2 and Phase 3 of the rollout plan, which includes the general public, will take place once guided by the Wisconsin State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee (SDMAC). “The State of Wisconsin is committed to a unified, statewide approach to COVID-19 vaccinations. At this time, when demand is high and vaccine supply is limited, we are carefully following the guidance of the Wisconsin State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee (SDMAC) and facilitating vaccinations only to residents identified in the three-phase plan,” Anderson said. It is expected that the vaccine will not become widely available to the community until this summer.
“There are a lot of moving pieces when it comes to vaccinating our whole community as well as our state so that collaboration with federal, state and local partners is crucial,” Geisler said. “We are all working together to figure out the most efficient way to get the vaccine out and looking for further guidance from the state for each of those categories moving forward and again working with our partners to identify how we can do that together.”
Tomah Area Ambulance Service Deputy EMS Chief Adam Robarge, CCTP #54, who was one of more than 50 Emergency Medical Service (EMS) employees vaccinated at Tomah Health said it was amazing that the hospital and Monroe County have joined forces to vaccinate area front-line employees including first responders. “It tells the community that we are doing our part – not only protecting them but help control the spread in our community,” Robarge said. He said a majority of ambulance staff planned to be vaccinated.
Wilton Ambulance EMT and Tomah firefighter Chris Semann was also thankful to be part of the first group to get the vaccine. “I think it is excellent that we were able to get the vaccination so quickly. I know there’s a lot of logistics going on in the background and appreciate all the work that is being done to get it to us,” Semann said. “There’s always that sense of concern, whenever there’s a call with someone with symptoms of COVID. The piece of mind that I am looking for is being able to go home and not worry about spreading it to my daughters, wife or parents,” he said.
Giesler said her office has received numerous inquiries about when the public can get a vaccine. “Everybody is excited about this (vaccine) because it is that glimmer of hope and the hope is on the horizon with this vaccine.” She said as vaccine supply increases, recommendations for who can get vaccinated will likely change and communicated through the local media and social media.
Both Giesler and Anderson said until the vaccine is available to the public, residents should continue to be vigilant. “This virus is real; it doesn’t just have short-term impacts, but long-term impacts, and what we do on a day-to-day basis not only protects ourselves as well as others. Even with a vaccination we still need to continue to our part,” Geisler added.
If you are a Phase 1A worker who is not employed by a healthcare system and the Monroe County Health Department has not been in contact with you, please fill out the county's 1A Vaccination Form to schedule a vaccine, CLICK HERE