Pop-up clinics bring COVID-19 vaccines to Northeast Indiana’s vulnerable, underserved residents

Parkview COVID Pop up vaccine clinic
By the time the first COVID-19 vaccination, Pfizer, was approved by the FDA for emergency use in December 2020, Michelle Charles was working with a team of employees from 20 departments throughout Parkview Health’s Northeast Indiana network to develop a plan for vaccinations.

Charles is Vice President of Nursing Informatics at Parkview, and in November 2020, she was assigned to lead the hospital network’s vaccine efforts in the region. Through simulations and research, her team decided to create a mass vaccination clinic, which, on their highest day, gave more than 1,400 shots to Hoosiers in the region.

Their peak number of shots per day was in April 2021. Charles says Fort Wayne is now seeing a downtrend in the demand for vaccines. They do roughly 400 shots a day, and the clinic is open three days a week for four hours.

This lowering demand for vaccines is not unique to Fort Wayne. According to CIDRAP in early June, national vaccination rates have dropped to fewer than 1 million shots given per day. This decline is more than 70 percent lower than the nation’s peak vaccination rate of 3.4 million shots per day in April.

A significant decrease in vaccinations happening locally and across the country poses a challenge to the need for 70 percent of the U.S. population to be vaccinated to achieve what many health experts identify as “herd immunity” against COVID-19, according to the Mayo Clinic. As it stands, approximately 46 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated against the virus, according to Our World in Data.

As the demand for shots at Parkview’s mass vaccination clinic decreases, Charles and her team knew there was more work to be done to serve the community and combat the virus. Using pop-up clinics, they are working to move the needle and reach more residents with the vaccine, including those who are vaccine-hesitant and those facing barriers to accessibility.

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When it comes to vaccine hesitancy, Charles says it can stem from a multitude of reasons.

“There are people who don’t take regular vaccines, flu vaccines, much less COVID vaccines,” says Charles. “This is a new vaccine. It’s still under emergency use, but Pfizer and Moderna both have asked for full regulatory waiver from the FDA.”

Jacqueline Barros, left, checks in for her vaccine with nurses Jan Moore, Parkview Community Nursing, and Stella Goodman, Chi Eta Phi nursing sorority.

According to the CDC, the COVID-19 vaccines have undergone tens of thousands of clinic trials and have proven to be safe and effective with limited side effects, such as a headache or tiredness immediately following the vaccination, if any side effects at all.

Charles says that, along with hesitancy from the expedited creation of the COVID-19 vaccines, there’s also race-based hesitancy in the U.S. due to the way medical studies, like the “ethically unjustified” Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, have been used to harm Black and Brown Americans in the past.

Repercussions of the Tuskegee Study persist today, Charles says, causing distrust of medical professionals and services among African Americans, in particular. When reviewing the data, she found that the African American community, as well as the Hispanic and Burmese communities in Fort Wayne, were among the populations with the lowest vaccination rates. This is similarly reflected in the national vaccination rates, where approximately 60 percent of those vaccinated against COVID-19 are White, 9 percent are African American, 15 percent are Hispanic, and 6 percent are Asian, according to the CDC.

Beyond a lack of trust in vaccinations, accessibility to the vaccine proves to be another key obstacle stifling vaccination rates in these communities. As a result, Charles and her team are bringing vaccine education and shots directly to neighborhoods in need in the Fort Wayne area through pop-up clinics.

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When it comes to building trust among Fort Wayne residents needing access to COVID-19 vaccines, Carmen Moore, Manager with Parkview Community Nursing, emphasizes that representation among the nursing and healthcare staff serving Black and Brown neighborhoods is of the utmost importance.

Working the pop-up COVID vaccine clinic at Renaissance Pointe YMCA are, from left, Carmen Moore, manager of Community Nursing, Parkview Health, and Phyllis Bragg and Stella Goodman, nurses from the Zeta Eta chapter of Chi Eta Phi nursing sorority.

Her team at Parkview Community Nursing is partnering with the local nursing sorority, Chi Eta Phi, of which she is also a member. This sorority is a group of professional, registered African American and Hispanic nurses who already work in Fort Wayne neighborhoods, serving Black and Brown families. Thus, Parkview is equipping these nurses with immunization information and vaccine access for the populations they serve.

“Our sorority is going into the African American, Hispanic, and the Burmese communities with healthcare workers who look like them to increase engagement,” Moore says. “This is one of our service projects, and we’re helping make these connections happen. It’s so important to serve these people in our community who look like us and to connect with people who look like us. Helping with that educational piece is so important for us to do.”

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To pinpoint the exact locations in Fort Wayne where residents would benefit the most from pop-up clinics, Parkview has used zip code data to determine which neighborhoods have the lowest vaccination rates. 

“Zip code data tell us, ‘Hey, this is where there’s a lack of shots,’” Charles says. “Our mission for the community vaccines is to give shots to the vulnerable and underserved and to take it to where people live and where they work.”

At the Rescue Mission pop-up clinic,Carl Savage receives his COVID-19 vaccine from Parkview nurse Judy Nix.

Pop-up clinics are intended to serve residents who work odd hours or multiple jobs and may not be able to take time off work to get vaccinated. They might also lack access to a vehicle or public transit to reach a vaccination site.

While there is still work to do, Charles says the City of Fort Wayne is close to achieving a 50 percent vaccination rate. Two areas, in particular, where she highlights improvements are in the 46803 and 46806 zip codes. These neighborhoods were formerly red, meaning only 0-15 percent of the population was vaccinated. Now the ‘03 zip code is now up to 26.3 percent vaccinated, and the ‘06 is up to 31.7 percent vaccinated, according to IN.gov.

Along with barriers to vaccine access in recent months, Fort Wayne’s ‘03 and ‘06 zip codes have long faced barriers to other necessities and amenities in the city. As formerly redlined districts, much of these areas are considered food deserts and have experienced some of the highest poverty rates in Indiana, with almost 51 percent of residents in the ‘03 living below the federal poverty line in 2019.

While zip code data has given Parkview some insight into which neighborhoods to focus their efforts on, leaders within local African American, Burmese, and Hispanic communities have also reached out to Parkview, seeking vaccine education and access. As a result, pop-up clinics have been held everywhere from a Burmese Mosque, to Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church, to the Renaissance Pointe YMCA, and more locations.

In this way, the community is helping to direct Parkview’s vaccination efforts, too.

“We’re really out here with the mission of serving the community,” says Charles.

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In addition to identifying neighborhoods with low vaccination rates, Parkview has also vaccinated roughly 100 home-bound residents and brought vaccines to homeless populations in Fort Wayne, utilizing pop-up clinics at places, including the Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army, and the Charis House.

The pop-up clinic for the Rescue Mission was set up like a “mini Mirro” Center, organizers said. It included areas for registration, vaccination, and observation.

Prior to COVID-19, Parkview community nurses were already providing programming and services to the local homeless community. President and CEO of Fort Wayne’s Rescue Mission, Donovan Coley, says that within the first six months of this partnership, emergency room visits for Rescue Mission clients were down by 80 percent.

While much programming has been put on hold throughout the pandemic, Moore says the services community nurses provide to Fort Wayne’s homeless population could not be paused. In fact, they expanded, opening a “quarantine hotel” where homeless residents who tested positive for COVID-19 or had symptoms were isolated and received the healthcare they needed.

As such, the ongoing relationship between Parkview and the Rescue Mission naturally made the Mission an ideal site for a vaccination clinic.

“People at the Rescue Mission were so excited to get their shots,” Charles says. “We did it during dinner one night, and I think we administered more than 50 shots, so it was a great turnout.”

Whether a clinic results in 50 vaccinations or just one, Charles is thankful that pop-up efforts are making a difference in Fort Wayne’s community. She hopes to continue to vaccinate Allen County residents, as long as the demand is there because she knows firsthand how dangerous COVID-19 can be.

“As a nurse, I’ve seen these patients in the ICU on the ventilator,” Charles says. “I’ve seen patients where their families can’t even go in the room and see them or are saying goodbye via Facebook. This is where we were last year, so my little share of being able to give vaccines is very rewarding to me. I remember where we were, and I don’t ever want us to go back that way again.”

This story was made possible by Parkview Health.
 
Q& A with Donovan Coley
Q& A with Donovan Coley
President and CEO
Rescue Mission Fort Wayne

In a time like no other, Donovan Coley, the President and CEO of Fort Wayne’s Rescue Mission, navigated COVID-19 as best he could. From moving into a new facility during the pandemic, to strictly following the guidelines and updates shared by the CDC and local health officials, Coley is proud to say there were never more than five people, at any given time, either infected or suspected of being infected with COVID-19 at the Rescue Mission.

Input Fort Wayne spoke with Coley to learn more about the city’s homeless population and their experience during the pandemic, as well as how the Rescue Mission has partnered with Parkview Health to make vaccines accessible to the homeless.

IFW: Tell us more about your work as the President and CEO of the Rescue Mission.

DC: I work with our board of trustees in executing our strategic plan, and that is really to address the issue of homelessness and poverty. So my day-to-day role is to provide resources to the team and to the staff, especially the senior leadership team so they’re able to empower their staff and work with those who are in emergency shelters. We serve those who are looking for recovery, those who are in need of medical assistance or vocational needs or mental illness being addressed, along with those who have trauma and addictions. So what I do is, I am the cheerleader to the senior leadership team in executing our direction here at the Rescue Mission.

IFW: What has the pandemic looked like for the homeless community in Fort Wayne?

DC: One of the things we saw during COVID was the number of new people who started coming to the Rescue Mission for meals. So we saw an increase in the number of people who would come to the free meals, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Not necessarily new people who are looking for recovery services, but people looking for basic needs. That was the first thing that we noticed.

At the time, we worked in our old facility, and we realized we didn’t have the adequate space to be able to do social distancing and all the protocols that we needed to follow during the pandemic. So we had to move overnight. On March 16, 2020, we moved 50 men into another facility we rented at a former church building in 24 hours. Then within a week, we had to rent portable showers and portable toilets, and we placed them in our east parking lot of our old facility. This allowed us to keep serving individuals in a way that still gave them dignity and provided water and toilets.

A lot of public facilities were closed during the pandemic, so the Rescue Mission had to step into that gap by providing support service for people. It meant we also had to connect with restaurants and other partners in our community to get our work done. We worked with some donors who were able to get restaurants to provide meals to keep them employed, and then we were able to distribute meals to the community by working with restaurants to keep their people employed during the height of the pandemic.

In July 2020, we moved into our new facility at 404 E. Washington St., so we had the facility with the 50 men, we had our old facility, and then slowly, we started to move individuals into our new facility by creating quarantines. Everybody had to go through a five-15 days of quarantine on the first floor at the new facility, and then we moved those who had gone through quarantine up to the second floor. Meanwhile, there were individuals who were looking for medical care, so we had to isolate them as well so they could quarantine, or they would miss their appointments for surgical procedures.

Overall, the Rescue Mission had to pivot and work very closely with the hospital systems, as well as the Board of Health as to provide safety and service by making sure that we isolated the population.

IFW: Tell us more about your partnership with Parkview Health?

DC:
We have a clinic that is staffed by Parkview community nurses. They provide us with two bridges to nurses, as well as a community health worker. These three individuals work hand-in-hand with Parkview Hospital and the Board of Health in guiding the Rescue Mission and our leadership as to the best ways to serve the men, women, and children we work with on a daily basis.

What that meant for us was: We provided temperature checks with every single person who came into our facility or who participated in our programs. We do have individuals who are still employed, so when they would leave our facility and go out, either to work or some appointment, our nurses would make sure they were on top of that and inform us.

Essentially, we gave Parkview the leadership of guiding us through this process. It was also the Parkview nurses who managed the entire process of those who needed to be quarantined and isolated.

Parkview also assisted us in making sure that we had stations throughout our facilities with hand sanitizer and that we were following the strict guidelines of the CDC and Board of Health. We’re happy to report that at no one time throughout the pandemic did we have more than five individuals who were either infected or suspected of being infected with COVID-19.

The CDC put up all kinds of journal information, such as that Rescue Missions and homeless shelters are a hot spot; they have some of the most vulnerable populations. I’m on the Board of our National Association, and I don’t think we had 3,000 people infected nationwide. That’s because each Rescue Mission that’s a part of our association took the CDC very seriously, worked with their health systems, and did everything that they could to protect the people that come to us for service.

We are very thankful that Parkview had the courage because I know when the numbers have gotten to a certain level, we weren’t sure if they were going to keep their nurses in our facility because they may have needed them where the situation was greatest in terms of the impact. But they held firm and stayed with the Rescue Mission through the entire pandemic.

IFW: What was your response when you found out there was a COVID-19 vaccine becoming available?

DC: We couldn’t wait because we felt if there was vaccine that was recommended by the CDC, the FDA, and it was a vaccine also affirmed by our local official healthcare providers, then for us, we have a great trust and faith in Parkview and the health system.

It was important for us to gather all the information we could. Then, as a group of executives who lead the Rescue Mission, we were united with one voice that our plan was to lead by example and to get vaccinated as a stewardship responsibility. We believe it was one of the best things that we could do for the other persons around us and it was literally affirming scripture: “Love your neighbor, as yourself.” Since we are a Christian organization, it was very important for us to fall in line with that and to do that.

We started out getting vaccines on a voluntary basis, and we’ve maintained that. Receiving the vaccine is something that’s voluntary, and I’m happy to report that 100 percent of our senior leadership team have been vaccinated. When we made an announcement that we were going to do a makeshift clinic onsite here at the Rescue Mission, I think more than 100 persons who were residents of the Rescue Mission, as well as individuals who eat meals here, took advantage of that opportunity to get shots. That was a very strong response. It shows that people here are taking it very seriously.