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Lowell General Hospital vaccinating 1,000 per day, still booked for a month

COVID-19 cases down at hospital; messages of hope lifting spirits

Donald Pare, 77, of Lowell, signs one of the “inspiration boards” after receiving his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Lowell General Hospital’s regional vaccination site at Cross River Center in Lowell on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. The inspiration boards are being signed with words of gratitude as people leave the vaccination center. Photo courtesy Lowell General Hospital
Donald Pare, 77, of Lowell, signs one of the “inspiration boards” after receiving his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Lowell General Hospital’s regional vaccination site at Cross River Center in Lowell on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. The inspiration boards are being signed with words of gratitude as people leave the vaccination center. Photo courtesy Lowell General Hospital
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LOWELL — Lowell General Hospital will vaccinate about 1,000 people per day against the COVID-19 virus moving forward, but despite so many patients being scheduled to go to the massive regional vaccination center at Cross River Center in Lowell demand is still far outpacing availability of vaccine.

But Amy Hoey, chief operating officer of Lowell General Hospital, said she and other hospital staff “know how precious this resource is to our community,” and said the hospital has the capacity, when vaccine availability makes it possible, to add staff and vaccinate about 5,000 people per day in the Lowell facility.

“No appointments are available right now and the demand far outstrips the availability of appointments, but we are working as hard as we can and as fast as we can to open up spots at the (regional vaccine facility) and we’ll continue to be laser focused on that,” Hoey told The Sun late Monday.

The facility at 1001 Pawtucket Blvd., which opened on Feb. 8, already administered about 16,800 shots of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, about 12,000 of which were first doses.

Initially the center provided vaccine only to those 75 and older, as per state guidelines, and only to patients of doctors within the Lowell General Hospital system. But Hoey said the hospital opened a public-facing website for anyone who qualifies for a vaccine in Phase 2 last week.

With over a million Massachusetts residents included in Phase 2, Group 2 — which includes those over 65 or those with two or more comorbidities — the hospital’s public vaccination website was immediately mobbed when it opened to the public.

A hospital spokesman said thousands of appointments were scheduled within hours on Wednesday morning, with over 18,000 individual users trying to access the site — including 3,000 all at once about 8:30 a.m.

So even though the hospital has enough vaccine secured and on the way to support vaccinating 1,000 people per day from now into March, all appointments up to March 19 are already taken, Hoey said. A hospital spokesman said that once the hospital is confident that vaccine supplies will enable it, additional appointments will become available.

Hoey said the hospital isn’t relying just on the massive center, though. Lowell General has also established mobile clinics that are heading out into the community to vaccinate people at local senior centers or other locations where groups of people with difficulties in accessing vaccines can be reached. The hospital is also working with local senior centers and health boards to have some patients driven to the vaccination site.

“We’re trying a multi-pronged approach to reach as many members of the community as we can as quickly as we’re able to,” she said.

Hoey said a Lowell General Hospital equity ambassador has worked with groups within the community to connect and use the groups’ knowledge of the community to find vulnerable seniors and organize ways to help them.

“There’s something that’s really special about Lowell — it’s the attention this community pays to its vulnerable populations, and how we help each other do it,” she said.

Hoey said trends at the hospital have been positive, with COVID-19 case numbers the lowest they have been since early November, and safety precautions and vaccination leaving only three hospital employees — out of more than 4,000 — currently quarantined.

Hoey said there were 23 COVID-19 positive patients at the hospital as of Monday, and that only four of those patients were in the intensive care unit. She said no patients at the hospital have tested positive for variants of the virus that emerged from the United Kingdom and South Africa.

Hoey said she hopes the numbers will continue on a positive trend so hospital workers can get a break.

“They’ve been amazing and heroic since last March, and to be able to offer them that peace of mind and hopefully a little staffing and scheduling break is fantastic,” Hoey said.

While the vaccine provides a powerful new tool to fight the virus, Hoey said the hospital is still emphasizing a message of “vaccinated but vigilant,” and encouraging everyone to continue taking precautions as vaccination levels increase.

“We don’t want people to let their guard down,” Hoey said. “We want them to continue safe practices.”

Hoey said taking part in the vaccination process has been a powerful experience, especially as she’s met patients and seen a massive “inspiration board” at the vaccination center fill up with words from seniors expressing their thankfulness for the vaccine and reasons for needing it.

“It’s a huge board and we’ve ordered two more because it’s just so completely full with words of gratitude and inspiration,” Hoey said.

She personally interacted with a 101-year-old World War II veteran who was vaccinated, and a 102-year-old gentleman who will be 103 when he comes back for his second dose appointment.

“These are healthy, vibrant seniors in our community, and to see them getting safe and staying safe is just a powerful experience, and it’s so uplifting after all we as a community have been through,” she said.

For those who haven’t been able to schedule a vaccine appointment yet, Hoey said she knows her only advice won’t be sufficient, but that how important helping those people is keeps Lowell General inspired to keep working hard.

“My advice is patience, and that’s not what people want to hear right now,” she said. “That’s why we’re going to work so hard to get this vaccine out there as broadly and as quickly as we can.”