Hospital leaders in Coos County are hoping to smooth out the process of finding and making appointments to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
A coalition of hospitals is currently in the process of developing a centralized appointment scheduling system and phone number for questions, and is planning for increased doses in the coming weeks, according to Larry Seston, the interim chief operating officer at Bay Area Hospital.
“And that’s what your seeing is that evolution toward a single registry capability and a single phone number to call and ask questions. We think that will appeal greatly to the community,” Seston said Thursday.
Currently, each hospital in the community schedules its vaccination appointments through a separate system — meaning anyone seeking an appointment has to filter through several websites or phone numbers to find an appointment at an area provider.
“From the user point of view, that’s not particular friendly,” Seston said. “Because they have to figure out where they want to go and call or go online. Essentially they have to go online shopping.”
Instead, Seston said Coos County acute care providers, including Bay Area Hospital, Coquille Valley Hospital and Southern Coos Hospital & Health Center, are planning to eliminate that “online shopping” with a single phone number to take vaccine appointment questions and a single registration site to make appointments.
The hospitals, which meet each week to discuss the county’s vaccination plans, are currently developing the systems which could be online in the next few weeks, Seston said.
They’re hoping to establish a system which can stand up to the high demand for vaccine doses — the system state officials are using to schedule appointments in high-population areas has seen crashes, slowdowns and errors, which Seston said is part of the reason local hospitals have opted to develop their own.
Seston is hopeful the system will improve the vaccination process when the state and county begin receiving more doses and can begin vaccinating more individuals.
And the demand for doses is there — Seston said Bay Area Hospital’s 500 vaccine appointments for this week filled up quickly after the county expanded its eligibility guidelines.
Meeting that demand will still be a challenge, though, Seston said. The amount of vaccinations the hospital is able to administer is still dependent on the amount of doses it receives, he said.
Just last week, Bay Area Hospital officials were expecting to start receiving up to 1,000 doses per week — but that bump didn’t yet materialize.
Data from the Oregon Health Authority show Coos Health & Wellness, which distributes doses to the hospital, is set to receive only 800 first doses of the vaccine for the week of March 28 (plus around 2,000 doses designated for booster shots).
“I think it’s important to understand that expanding the clinic is completely dependent on getting more doses allocated by the state, who in turn rely on the feds, the U.S. government, to send them more doses,” Seston said.
Still, Seston said Bay Area Hospital is focused on getting whatever doses it has available out to the community.
“We’re very focused here at Bay Area Hospital, when we get doses, we give them to people,” Seston said. “That’s our mission. We don’t want anything sitting in our fridge, waiting for people to show up. We get doses, vaccinate people, so that we’re maximizing that move toward heard immunity.”
To do that, the hospital’s planning to shift its vaccine clinic from Saturday-only events to weekday appointments.
“What you’re seeing I think is an evolution. When we started, we started with events. It was like, ‘we’re not sure how this is going to shake out, we want to get some experience,’” Seston said. “Now we see that it’s going to be a longer-term thing, we’ve got to become more efficient and we’ve got to provide our patients with more options and more convenience.”
Getting county residents vaccinated is going to be essential in getting out of the extreme-risk category of restrictions, Seston said.
“As soon as the community can, based on their age group, get vaccinated,” he said Thursday. “Between that date and today, they need to be as safe as they possibly be. That means wear your mask, maintain social distancing. The end is in sight for all this, so let’s try and be as good as we can be and get out from this extreme category so we can start opening up again.”