DuBOIS — Penn Highlands Healthcare officials, at last week’s media teleconference, discussed the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s new COVID-19 vaccine guidelines which were announced on Feb. 19.

Currently, there are approximately 1,700 vaccine providers, which includes hospitals, health systems, physician offices, pharmacies, etc., who completed the paperwork and met the requirements to provide the COVID-19 vaccine, said PHH Chief Medical Officer Russell Cameron.

The DOH reportedly reviewed the information in their database regarding which organizations have been administering the vaccines expeditiously, he said. Based on their review, the DOH will be narrowing the number of organizations who can give vaccinations to 300 of these providers.

“Penn Highlands Healthcare is excited and proud to be one of the organizations that will continue to receive and administer vaccines,” said Cameron.

Andrew Kurtz, system director for retail pharmacy services and vaccination lead, said this means that, according to the DOH, PHH will receive a consistent amount of vaccine and the state will guarantee a set number for the amount of vaccine each week.

“Penn Highlands Healthcare has been receiving an average of about 1,500 vaccines per week, and we were not sure of the amount of that until the vaccine arrived,” said Kurtz. “This caused us to have to schedule vaccine clinics week-by-week, giving the patients minimal amount of notice. Now, if this holds true, we’ll be able to begin scheduling people for vaccinations further in advance.”

Kurtz noted there are still requirements for vaccine providers with the new guidelines.

“We were selected to be one of the approved providers because we have been able to vaccinate a large number of people — more than 23,000 — while using the majority of our vaccine on hand, all in a timely fashion,” said Kurtz. “This will need to continue as the state is mandating that we use 80 percent of the vaccine that we receive within seven days. We also are required to have a call center, to take calls, to share vaccine information and to schedule vaccine appointments.”

PHH’s COVID Vaccine Line — 814-503-4735 — was opened in January and is being staffed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday by PHH employees.

Another requirement is that PHH needs an online tool as well, said Kurtz, noting that PHH has been utilizing its website —www.phhealthcare.org — to educate people about COVID-19, share testing and vaccine information and other COVID-19-related information since the beginning of the pandemic.

“In fact, we had well over a million unique visits to our website since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Kurtz. “We will be adding an online sign-up tool this week for people to get on the wait list and they can share the preferred vaccine location and time of day. As more clinics open up the primary care offices or the Penn Highlands call center will contact the people on the wait list to be scheduled.”

Volunteers needed “The outpouring of support by the community since the beginning of the pandemic has been wonderful and we were greatly appreciative,” said PHH Chief Operating Officer Mark Norman. “And as a reminder, we had local businesses donate PPE, folks from the community, sewing and donating masks, sharing inspirational messages, and putting up signs, and a lot more.”

Norman said PHH officials held a conference call early last week with local elected officials to share vaccine updates.

“We had more than 20 local officials and community leaders from within Penn Highlands’ service area,” said Norman. “We are very appreciative of their ongoing support and willingness to help as well. As we shared with the elected officials and other community leaders on the call, we need vaccine and need it to come consistently. That is the top need.”

Norman said PHH is optimistic, with the recent analysis by the DOH, that this need is going to be addressed.

“The next thing we need are volunteers to help with clinics,” said Norman. “We are spending a significant amount of time working through the logistics and planning and running the vaccine clinic. As we begin to offer more and more clinics, we could really use help with parking greeting, registration, etc. If anyone is interested, they can go to the COVID section of our website at phhealthcare.org to contact us.

“The locations where we have offered our past vaccine clinics have been absolutely wonderful and gracious,” said Norman. “Again, we are so thankful for their willingness to help. We want to continue to use these different locations, which have included local churches, schools, and fairgrounds. We could use, for what we’re calling super or mega vaccine clinics, locations with easy access, large amounts of parking that is friendly for people with walkers and wheelchairs, strong and consistent Wi-Fi and lots of inside space with heat and air conditioning. If someone has this, please go to the COVID section of our website to contact us.”

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