OSWEGO COUNTY — As the COVID-19 pandemic sends thousands to vaccination clinics throughout the state, locally, the Oswego County Health Department has been seeking volunteers interested in helping with the vaccination process.
“A mass vaccination clinic is a big undertaking, and we rely on support from many volunteers and partner agencies in addition to our own health department staff,” said Oswego County Public Health Director Jiancheng Huang in a release.
Volunteers interested are not required to have medical training. Those that have medical experience help administer vaccines, provide emergency medical attention to people with reactions to the immunization, and monitor patients after they receive their vaccination.
Non-medical volunteers aid in screening people prior to receiving their vaccine, and provide other assistance.
One of the volunteers who joined the cause was licensed registered nurse (RN) Ellen Holst. She told The Palladium-Times this week what it was like to be part of the first large-scale vaccination clinic at G. Ray Bodley High School in Fulton on Jan. 16, where the county health department administered 961 vaccines to residents.
“The county department of health has put together a process that’s very high functioning and makes it easier for volunteers to step in,” Holst said.
In addition to health department staff, those on hand to assist at the clinic included members of the Fulton Fire Department, Fulton City School District, and other county departments.
Holst said the county health department requires that all medical volunteers have proper credentials, experience and skills to provide the best quality assistance. She said that she brings with her a career that was focused in public health and spanned more than 40 years.
“I have an active RN license and I decided that if they wanted me then I would be willing to help with the vaccination efforts,” Holst said. “It’s been my way of contributing, if I can, to the improvement of the public health in the county.”
Since first being registered as an RN in 1973, she said that she has vaccinated children during the early 1980s while working as a school nurse and vaccinated adults while working at Oswego County Opportunities. In 2017, she retired from OCO as its senior director of health and nutrition services.
“The health care field was something I have always been drawn to and continue to be drawn too, such as issues involving the public’s health. That’s what drew me to this whole COVID vaccine participation,” Holst said.
She said she first heard about the opportunity after the New York State Department of Health reached out to nurses — both retired and currently practicing — to see what they could do to contribute to the vaccination efforts downstate.
“I felt like I didn’t have the skill set or desire to (go there),” Holst said. However, she said she was interested in joining the fight locally and registered to assist in Oswego County once registration became available.
Contributing her years of experience as a nurse and providing vaccinations, Holst commuted nearly 40 minutes from her home in Bernhards Bay to Fulton to continue her mission of helping the community.
While at the vaccination clinic in Fulton, Holst administered immunizations. She described the process as a volunteer as “simple, easy to understand and smooth.”
Upon arrival she said that county health department staff provided information needed to all volunteers, provided the appropriate documents, and didn’t push the volunteers into doing anything they weren’t comfortable with.
“I arrived at 8 a.m. and left after 6 p.m. My feet and legs were killing me, but my heart was so full of gratitude for being able to be a part of such a successful operation,” Holst said. “Whatever task they needed me to do, that I am qualified to do, I was willing to jump in and do it.”
Holst said that she will be returning as a volunteer at the next vaccination clinics held by the health department for the second doses of the vaccination at G. Ray Bodley High School.
“The clinics have been running very smoothly, but we can always use more people to help with the many steps required to deliver the vaccine,” Huang said in a release.
To volunteer at upcoming immunization clinics with the county health department, the necessary forms required can be accessed by visiting https://health.oswegocounty.com/.