Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series recognizing the extraordinary efforts of staff who made the Brigham’s employee and patient COVID-19 vaccination programs possible. Click here to read part two, which features the patient vaccination teams.
In December, the second-floor atrium of the Hale Building for Transformative Medicine transformed from a quiet lunch spot to the bustling hub of activity for employee COVID-19 vaccination at the Brigham. In the weeks and months since, Brigham staff have continued to work tirelessly behind the scenes to administer the vaccine to their colleagues and provide a seamless experience for all who entered the clinic — all while becoming a part of history in the making.
To ensure the clinic was operational as soon as vaccines were available, the Brigham drew from its existing workforce to staff clinical and non-clinical roles. That included dozens of employees — medical assistants, nurses, physicians, physician assistants, practice managers, research assistants and more — who volunteered or were temporarily reassigned to support the clinic’s day-to-day operations and collectively administer thousands of vaccinations every week.
“I have been so impressed by our Brigham staff who have stepped up to administer vaccines and support the clinic in Hale,” said Karl Laskowski, MD, MBA, associate chief medical officer for Ambulatory Services, who co-lead the employee vaccination program with Paula Kackley, MBA, executive director of Clinical Services, and Sarah Kirchofer, MSN, RN, NP-C, NE-BC, interim director of Occupational Health Services.
“Their enthusiasm and dedication have provided hope during what would otherwise be a very hard winter,” Laskowski added. “They have worked extra hours, sometimes in addition to their regular roles. They have braved snowstorms. They have come in early and left late. And they have administered tens of thousands of vaccines. None of this would be possible without their hard work.”
‘The Best Job I’ve Ever Had’
Among the vaccinators is physician assistant Megan O’Connor, PA-C, who volunteered to work 12-hour shifts at the Hale clinic once a week and said she gives about 70 to 80 doses of the vaccine per shift.
“It’s been such a rough year that it’s so nice to have a little bit of a bright side,” O’Connor said. “It’s exciting. I haven’t been involved in anything like this before.”
Every shift, O’Connor converses with colleagues she hasn’t seen in months, as well as many new faces, as she gives them a dose of the groundbreaking vaccine. Despite the long hours, O’Connor said the work is extremely rewarding.
“It seems like a simple task to give shots in arms all day, but the reaction from people is really overwhelming. Everyone’s so excited, emotional and a little bit anxious,” O’Connor said.
Nurse Brieanna Gacek, RN, BSN, PCCN, helped open the first Special Pathogens Unit and Special Pathogens-Intensive Care Unit (ICU) during the first surge in spring 2020. Nearly one year later, she received a new assignment — to administer some of the first doses of the vaccine in the Hale clinic.
“We were all really grateful for the opportunity. I felt like it was a glimpse of hope after what we all had gone through in the last year,” Gacek said. “To be able to give the vaccine to my colleagues has been an honor and I am so grateful to help keep them safe from the virus.”
Gacek said it has been inspiring to see so many people come together, including colleagues from many different departments and retired staff who returned to support the clinic, all with the shared goal of overcoming the pandemic.
“The vaccine clinic is very busy. There are a lot of questions that come up and it can be hectic at times, but it’s been so rewarding to be there making a difference and seeing people who are so gracious and genuinely happy to be there,” Gacek said. “A lot of the vaccinators have said, ‘This is the best job I’ve ever had.’ Everyone feels they’re getting this sense of fulfillment from being able to help protect people from the virus and return to a sense of normalcy.”
Anesthesiologist Gyorgy Frendl, MD, PhD, who also serves as director of Anesthesia Critical Care Research, spent his vacation days volunteering as a vaccinator at the employee clinic in Hale.
“At some point, there were a lot of doctors, surgeons and anesthesiologists coming in to get vaccinated, and they were all surprised that I was sitting there. But I think it was very reassuring for them to hear that I already got the vaccine,” Frendl said. “So, I not only vaccinated them, but I also told them that when I got it, I was OK.”
‘Even Better Than I Could Have Hoped’
Non-clinical staff have also played an essential role in employee vaccination efforts — including checking in colleagues for their appointments, scheduling their next dose and countless unseen contributions that keep the clinic running smoothly.
Sarah Micucci, a medical assistant in the Division of Rheumatology, works as an operations lead at the Hale clinic, where she helps with check in and check out, greeting new arrivals, distributing the vaccine to vaccinators and assisting with Epic troubleshooting. She said the vaccine clinic’s greatest strength is that it draws on the diverse experience and expertise of employees from across the Brigham, resulting in a team with an expansive skill set.
“I’m extremely grateful to be working and learning alongside people who genuinely want to help in any way that they can,” Micucci said. “This has made the clinic run even better than I could have hoped.”
Brendan Cormier, a Safe Care Commitment assistant and nursing student, said being an operations lead at the clinic has been his favorite job to date. Playing a crucial part in helping colleagues receive the vaccine, and working in the clinic’s inviting atmosphere, keeps him motivated during long shifts.
“Arriving to work and seeing the schedule full of people to be vaccinated can be a bit daunting at times, but then I remember that every person who comes into the clinic is one more person who is on their way to being protected,” Cormier said.
Patient care associate and graduate student Rachel Fearing said she checks in about 700 to 800 people during her shifts as an operations lead. When the employee vaccine clinic began transitioning to appointments for patients 75 and older, Fearing remembered one woman tearing up when she arrived for her first dose.
“No matter how hectic the day is, or how long the hours are, experiences like that one — with someone who was just so overwhelmed and so overjoyed with our little clinic in the Hale building — make it all worth it,” Fearing said.
Laskowski reflected on the tremendous difference that clinic staff have had on the Brigham community.
“With very little lead time and a seemingly non-stop schedule since then, staff in Hale clinic have done an outstanding job in helping our employees get vaccinated these past three months,” he said. “Leaders from some of the mass vaccination sites visited Hale prior to their launch to learn how they might model a successful high-throughput clinic. We could not have achieved nearly a fraction of what we did without the remarkable contributions of our vaccinators and clinic staff.”