LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. — "Many of the members have been involved since the very beginning of the pandemic," said Sergeant First Class Joel Bergey.
Bergey explains how the PA National Guard has helped throughout the pandemic. From setting up overflow hospitals to assisting with COVID-19 testing: They have had boots on the ground since the start.
"Now, to see it come full circle and be able to be a part of the solution and vaccinations has been an awesome experience," added SFC Bergey.
SFC Bergey comes to Lancaster from Lansdale, Pennsylvania. He is one of 40 members of the PA National Guard who are assisting with what many see as the end to the pandemic. They've been deployed to the Community Vaccination Center in Lancaster. Their mission for the next two months is to support the site. 15 members will administer vaccines. The rest will serve in administrative roles such as greeters and registrars.
"We're very excited to have them working alongside us. They have a lot of experience they bring the table. Operationally, we speak the same language in many ways," said Vanessa Felty, who is the Director of Nursing for Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health Ambulatory Services.
Beginning this weekend, staff will meet the site's goal of vaccinating 6,000 people per day. With such a large scale operation, Felty says having reliable staff members is necessary.
"To run at a full 6,000, we need 44 vaccinators," explained Felty. "That's just clinicians who vaccinate."
She says there are many more critical people behind the scenes
"We have other team mates who are relief vaccinators to make sure staff get breaks, lunch breaks, who are making sure we have staff to make accommodations for special needs, such as privacy vaccines," added Felty. "We have patients who don't do well in large environments. We've developed a process that we're really able to fit the needs of anyone who comes to our clinic."
For Bergey, this signals a light at the end of a long tunnel.
"It almost doesn't feel real sometimes, some days, because we have come through such a long year where there has been a lot of death in the places we were specifically. It's neat to feel the sense of hope in the community and just to be a part of it," added SFC Bergey.
In total, Bergey says 300 members of the PA National Guard are currently assisting at 5 vaccination sites across the state.
“We are so grateful to the Pennsylvania National Guard for offering their support and assistance as we continue our efforts to vaccinate our community members as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible,” said Dr. Michael Ripchinski, site director for the Lancaster County Community Vaccination Center and chief clinical officer with Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, lead healthcare partner for the Vaccinate Lancaster Coalition.
“This partnership provides our vaccination center with a stable and reliable staffing resource and will ensure that we can continue to expand our capacity and increase the number of vaccinations we provide daily."
“Our Guard members are committed to serving their fellow Pennsylvanians by assisting with COVID-19 vaccinations,” said Col. Frank Montgomery, director of domestic operations for the Pennsylvania National Guard and a Lancaster resident. “We are happy to be assisting our neighbors here, as well as at several other sites throughout the Commonwealth.”
To help ensure all vaccine doses are used by the end of each day, the center is now offering limited same-day appointments.
“Our goal is to make sure we get every vaccine dose we receive into the arm of one of our community members,” added Dr. Michael Ripchinski. “Same-day appointments will give our team a more efficient way to ensure every dose is used each day.”
Same-day appointment scheduling will be held at 1 p.m. daily at the vaccination center’s interior mall entrance, based on vaccine availability.
With an average of 60 to 70 vaccine doses potentially available for same-day appointments each day, Ripchinski notes that spots are likely to fill up quickly.