North Country Healthcare Hospitals Begin Administering COVID-19 Vaccines to Employees

Misty Gagne, a registered nurse in the emergency department at Androscoggin Valley Hospital, is vaccinated by Karen Bertin-Roy, RN, an infection control preventionist at the hospital. (COURTESY PHOTO)

On Thursday, Dec. 17, North Country Healthcare hospitals, including Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin, Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital in Colebrook and Weeks Medical Center ion Lancaster, began administering COVID-19 vaccines to frontline employees who wished to receive it.

A limited supply of the vaccine is being sent to each facility semi-weekly. Administration to the North Country Healthcare employees requesting it is anticipated to take a number of weeks, and will be managed in a manner consistent with Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

Based on the COVID-19 Allocation Guidelines for Phase 1a from the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, North Country Healthcare and its affiliates have reviewed all staff based on job responsibilities and assigned each individual to one of three risk categories:

• Most Risk: Frontline clinical staff who provide direct patient care and support staff with risk of exposure to bodily fluids or aerosols.

• Moderate risk: Staff who have indirect or limited patient contact.

• Least risk: Administrative or other staff with no expected routine patient contact.

North Country Healthcare and its affiliates make no distinction regarding priority among physicians, nurses, other clinicians and support staff (including housekeeping, food services and registration) who are at risk of exposure to the virus. After allocating each employee into one of the three risk categories above, each employee who has chosen to be vaccinated is assigned a number based on CDC medical risk factors and age.

The initial allotment of the vaccine was received in New Hampshire earlier this week. That allotment was then disbursed to several regions of the state, including Coos County. Initial doses are part of the Phase 1a vaccination plan which incorporates at-risk health workers, older adults in residential care settings, and first responders. Subsequent vaccinations beyond Phase 1a will occur as supplies allow.

The vaccine, which is administered as two injections, three or four weeks apart, dependent on the brand received, is part of North Country Healthcare's ongoing effort to reduce transmission of the virus, which has recently spiked in Northern New Hampshire.

“Vaccination of our employees is a critical step in significantly reducing COVID-19 transmission,” said North Country Healthcare CEO Tom Mee, RN, BSN, MBA. “I applaud everyone within our organization who has worked so diligently in the planning and execution of this historic action. Although there remains much work to be done over the next several months, our providers, nurses and staff continue to lead by example.”

Despite the vaccine’s rollout, the requirement for employees and patients to continue wearing facemasks when within affiliate hospitals and off-site locations will remain in place. In addition, social distancing of at least 6 feet will be maintained.

North Country Healthcare encourages everyone to speak with their health-care provider about their interest in receiving the vaccine, as well as any questions about it, as the vaccine becomes increasingly available in future phases.

For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, go to:

• The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/index.html

• The NH Department of Health and Human Services website at https://www.nh.gov/covid19/index.htm

• The U.S. Food and Drug Administration website at https://www.fda.gov/emergency-preparedness-and-response/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid- 19/covid-19-vaccines

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