Huntington Hospital: Learning to ‘Pivot and Run’ to Get People Vaccinated Against COVID-19
Photos courtesy of Huntington Hospital
Timothy Albert, M.D., executive medical director, Huntington Health Physicians and Huntington Hospital, a 619-bed, not-for-profit hospital in the heart of San Gabriel Valley in Southern California, was asked to oversee the provider’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout in December 2020. At that time, COVID-19 cases in the U.S. surpassed 11 million and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans to stay home for the holidays amid national spikes in COVID-19 cases.
Albert recalled a sense of “grave concern” about managing the growing number of COVID-19 cases they were seeing, with emergency room patients triaged to tents outside the hospital. “It felt like we were not winning the war,” said Albert. “Our medical staff was tired and stretched thin.”
On December 11, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration agreed to an emergency use authorization for the first COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech. And the next day, the vaccine was being shipped to hospitals across the country, including Huntington Hospital. “The arrival of the vaccine felt like the first time we could actually go on the offensive against this pandemic,” said Albert. “We finally had a weapon to give us hope.”
Huntington Hospital opened the doors to its vaccine clinic on December 17, 2020. On top of an already-demanding situation, clinic staff volunteered their time to get the vaccine clinic up and running — some even coming out of retirement to lend a hand. It was the beginning of an unimaginable task to vaccinate the hospital’s health care workers and employees as well as thousands of local residents across the communities the hospital serves as quickly as possible.
“Pivot, run” has been the COVID-19 vaccine team’s rallying cry throughout the pandemic, Albert said. The vaccine team started with modest goals, focusing on a 48-hour turnaround from receiving doses to getting them into arms. In the beginning, demand outpaced supply, and logistics made it challenging to know what doses (and how many) would arrive in the weekly shipment. “The arrival of a FedEx package felt like Christmas morning. Luckily, we always had just enough and we never had to turn anyone away,” said Albert.
As more people entered the available tiers of vaccination and demand continued to spike, it was a constant cycle of testing a process and adjusting on the fly. “Pivot, run, pivot, run,” as Albert put it. From pharmacists to nurses to the IT and environmental services teams, many worked tirelessly to serve on the front lines and refine the process. Sade Luna is one of those front-line employees who was among the first vaccinated. “I feel amazing because we are making history today,” she said at the time. And when asked about her confidence in the vaccine, she replied, “We’ve got to start somewhere, you know? And if we don’t start now, then we’re not going to be done with this pandemic.”
Health Department Partnerships
Even before vaccinations began, Huntington Hospital had close ties with the Pasadena Public Health Department. At the onset of the pandemic, Huntington and PPHD began working closely together, helping manage skilled nurses treating older adults diagnosed with COVID-19 who were returning home from the hospital. Because of the large population of older adults, Huntington was one of the top five hospitals in the state dealing with hospitalized patients.
Huntington and PPHD were able to create a symbiotic relationship for getting the vaccine out to the public. Because PPHD was on a state distribution list, it was able to get the vaccine more easily, while Huntington was there to store and administer the doses.
One great example is a coordinated effort between PPHD, Huntington, the city of Pasadena and the NAACP’s Pasadena Branch to open a pop-up clinic. Held outside the NAACP offices in February and March of 2021, the team was able to vaccinate 114 members of the African-American community, age 65 and older. “Huntington Hospital is committed to helping our partners in the community provide equitable opportunities to access the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Pamela Weatherspoon, vice president of enterprise, diversity, equity and inclusion at Huntington Hospital.
In addition to Albert and Weatherspoon, other executives were on hand to help Huntington Hospital navigate the pandemic. The outreach and public relations teams helped guide the strategies for finding effective community partners and trusted allies. Outreach and good marketing helped Weatherspoon build relationships and establish trust quickly in the communities. “Our targeted clinics and adoption campaign were well received,” she said. “I believe it showcased that we at Huntington Hospital were fully committed to equity.”
Another important member of the Huntington community during the vaccination push was Kimberly Shriner, M.D., medical director of infection prevention and control. Shriner has provided regular updates in local, national and international news outlets as well as on Huntington Hospital’s website, with a no-nonsense approach to the state of the pandemic and the importance of vaccinations. On September 13, 2021, Shriner wrote of the delta variant: “The latest surge shows the ability of these vaccinations to decrease the risk of serious illness, hospitalization and death. … Eight months into widespread vaccination of many of our communities, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines show persistent protection, even in the presence of a highly infectious variant and decreasing antibody levels.” Huntington Hospital also keeps updated tabs of infections and hospitalizations, plus offers FAQs and prevention tips, on its COVID-19 information page.
- Huntington hospital administered over 40,000 vaccine doses to health care workers and the communities they serve.
- On the busiest day of vaccination, over 600 doses were administered.
- When supply was scarce, less than 0.1% of doses went to waste.
- When COVID-19 hospitalizations began to surge in December 2020, the days and weeks leading up to vaccine deployment were critical for planning. Managing current infections while operationalizing a new vaccine campaign internally and externally required maximum coordination, as well as growing partnerships with PPHD and the city of Pasadena.
- Albert pointed out that eventually the supply versus demand dynamic flipped. “Demand went off a cliff. The question then became: How do you reach the vaccine-hesitant individual?” Nothing ever stays the same, so identifying pockets in the communities where vaccination rates lagged and then acting on them became crucial, noted Albert.
- In addition to partnering with the NAACP, Weatherspoon and her team deployed creative tactics trying to improve access to the COVID-19 vaccines throughout African-American communities. They showed up at community churches, neighborhood festivals and other cultural events. They collaborated with labor unions and called upon the Pasadena mayor to make a personal appeal.
- Because 14% of Pasadena’s population are seniors, the hospital tailored vaccine confidence messages to meet the needs of older adults — many of whom are living with serious illness, residing in assisted living and nursing homes, or living alone. The hospital also conducted special outreach to caregivers of the older adults.