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A Model for Excellence ~ ‘Heroes in the Gym’

The Pocahontas County Health Department and more than a dozen county agencies and medical offices joined together to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to more than 430 county residents last Thursday. By all accounts, this long awaited event was a rousing success. Pictured, Chance Walther, RN, right, and Kari Cooper, Pharm D, were part of the Pocahontas Memorial Hospital delegation. PMH photo

Ken Springer
Watoga Trail Report

This week’s Watoga Trail Report will depart from the usual stories about Watoga State Park, local history, natural science and the trials and tribulations of life to celebrate a singular and remarkable experience on January 21, 2021.

An experience that at least 436 of our fine citizens are eager to share with the entire county and perhaps, beyond.

I set off to get my COVID-19 vaccination on that Thursday morning with great trepidation. Not because I am afraid of needles, but due to the reports I had been hearing from other localities attempting to vaccinate their citizenry.

I listened to the radio during my 45-minute drive from Seebert to Pocahontas County High School, where the event was held. The news was dominated by the many failures of getting the vaccinations out efficiently and timely throughout the U.S.
There were reports of long lines – some people waiting for hours in inclement weather only to find out their names had been lost. In some states, people showed up and found out that there were not enough doses of the vaccine to go around after even longer waits.

In other areas of the country, those wishing to get the vaccine found it impossible to get on a waiting list because the phone was ceaselessly busy or websites were down. A friend in Austin, Texas, informed me that they received 12,000 doses for a population of 1.5 million people adding, “Nothing pretty about that.”

We owe a huge thanks to the Pocahontas County Health Department and their partners who organized and so flawlessly carried off this vaccination clinic. Our experience was quick, seamless, and profoundly professional and courteous.

Most entered the door of the gym to get our vaccine and exited 30 minutes later – if not sooner.

There will be those quick to point out that Pocahontas County has a small population, making such a feat much easier.

There may be a grain of truth to that assertion. But as Cadwell Tyler, of Hillsboro, said, “Because there are so few of us West Virginians, we have to work together to get anything done. The vaccination event was one impressive operation of people working together. I wish the rest of the country could see what it looks like when it’s done right.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Tyler, having found myself in Pendleton County in the immediate aftermath of the Great Flood of 1985. Like most of the areas impacted by this flood, bridges, communications and roads were destroyed or heavily damaged.

I witnessed how the local population mobilized within days to remove logjams threatening the few remaining bridges. Local folks broke up the jams with unorthodox, but effective methods – rifles, shotguns, tractors, and even horse teams. Several bridges were saved before any outside help arrived.

Working in ad hoc crews, they created safe crossings for those trapped on the other side of the North Fork South Branch of the Potomac River without access to food and shelter.

What they did not do was sit around and wait for the government to send help their way. They got organized just like the folks of Pocahontas County did to vaccinate their people against this dreadful and deadly disease.

Resilience, cooperation and resourcefulness is a very distinct aspect of Appalachian culture, and we should be proud of it.
Here are some examples of what our friends and neighbors have to say about their experience getting their COVID 19 vaccination at PCHS:

Mac Gray, of Seebert: “Today, I joined the ranks of the vaccinated. I cannot say enough about the organized, courteous and efficient manner in which the process was handled. I was greeted as I arrived and assisted with parking. After being greeted at the door, I was escorted to a table with two attendants. There I was asked to verify my identity by one of the attendants, while the other prepared my vaccination.

“I received the shot and was provided a date for the second shot. I was then seated in the post-vaccination area and given a slip of paper noting my time of departure. Twice during my short wait, a volunteer stopped by asking if I was OK. I also noticed that they had snacks and water available.”

Vicki Rose, of Hillsboro, shared the following:

“Thanks to everyone for getting the vaccination clinic set up at PCHS yesterday. It was so efficient and well organized. Donnie and I appreciate everyone’s hard work yesterday and every day. We are so fortunate to live in our small community with so many caring and compassionate people.”

Cadwell Tyler, of Hillsboro, had this to say about his and his wife, Lucinda’s, experience: “Upon arriving, there was a man with a two-way radio who asked us when our appointment was. We were early so the man said ‘follow me,’ and he takes us to the gym doors and hands us off to another escort. We were not herded; we were escorted like VIPs.

“There is a team at each table. One at a computer and one at my short-sleeved arm. I’m focused so much on making sure the laptop has my data right that I never felt the prick of the needle.

“I’m handed the follow-up appointment card and escorted to the recovery area. Here, I gaze up and notice the big exhaust fans; we are indoors, but the air is super fresh. This was one impressive operation!”

Mary Dawson, of Buckeye, was appreciative of the vaccination and excited about seeing other people again.

“After being ‘shut-in’ for so many months, it was fun to see so many people together. And they all seemed happy to be getting a shot in the arm. Thank you, Pocahontas County, for staging a perfect event. The organization and friendliness of the staff made it a pleasant experience.”

Cyla Allison, of Hillsboro, had an ethereal take on the event’s effect on her.

“The staff was cheerful, and I suspect that we fed on each other’s joy. I felt a huge weight lifted from my shoulders in that I could not only see the light, I could now be the light as Amanda Gorman charged us to do. I came home to a burst of creative energy that seemed to be hovering in some sort of purgatory.

“My own experience was very much the same as my neighbors and friends.

“From the time that I entered the front door of the PCHS gym Thursday morning until I exited the gym was a mere 27 minutes. I have waited longer than that for a cup of coffee in a restaurant.

“The efficient movement of people through the procedure was on a par with Disney World, and you won’t spend the rest of the day with “It’s a Small World” playing non-stop in your brain.”

A hearty “Bravo” to all of the frontline workers, including those providing healthcare, grocery workers and all other essential employees. You are the shining beacon in these dark days of the pandemic. Our hearts and most profound gratitude go out to you.

In the hour of need, there are always those that will cower, criticize and complain. Yet, in such times there are always those who step forward asking, “How can I help?”

Ken Springer
Ken1949bongo@gmail.com

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