CLARION – “If there’s one message out there in terms of what we’re trying to do... it’s that we’re going to get vaccines into the arms of our community as quickly as we get the vaccine.”

It was with these words that Clarion Hospital president Steven Davis, along with Clarion County officials, announced a collaborative effort between Butler Health System Clarion Hospital and the county in planning for the next phase in community vaccination against COVID-19.

During their virtual meeting Tuesday morning, Commissioners Ted Tharan, Wayne Brosius and Ed Heasley unanimously approved a lease agreement between the county and Clarion Associates for use of the former Peebles/Gordman’s building — located along Route 68 adjacent to Burger King in Monroe Township — as the new vaccination site for Clarion Hospital.

“This has truly been a collaborative effort,” Davis said of working with the county to secure a larger location for more efficient vaccine distribution. “I’m thrilled. I think we can be a model of how a community can come together in the midst of a crisis. I’m proud of this community, and I’m proud of the folks on this call.”

According to hospital and county officials, the effort stemmed from a recent meeting in which a discussion arose regarding how the various entities would handle mass distribution if and when vaccine supplies increase.

“How could we get the citizens of the county vaccinated quickly?” Tharan recalled asking. “Steven [Davis] suggested that if we had a bigger facility to do it in, it would work.”

Tharan said that he met with mall officials right away and secured the former Peebles building.

“We identified a location within one day, and we have been working closely with Clarion Hospital leadership on the required logistics for successful deployment and vaccine administration,” Tharan said.

He noted on Tuesday that the building owners offered the county a “really fair and really good” offer on the space.

“They’re only basically charging us the cost of utilities,” he said of the four-month lease, which goes from Jan. 25 until the end of May at a cost of $3,000 per month. “There’s no additional charges to us from them.”

While the space is secured, officials noted that the current problem is the very limited supply of vaccine available.

“The issue right now is a profoundly limited supply of vaccine,” Davis said in the press release. “We simply have received little vaccine to date. But we are preparing to vaccinate on a larger scale should the supply open up in the near future.”

Leslie Walters, the chief nursing officer who is leading the efforts at Clarion Hospital said that since the vaccine is in limited supply, clinics will be offered twice a week — on Tuesdays and Thursdays — by appointment only.

“We don’t want to be in a position where we have people coming and we run out of vaccine,” she said of the need to schedule appointments ahead of time.

In the release, Walters said the hospital will “take care of all of the logistics of storing, handling, administering, scheduling and tracking the vaccine,” while county officials have “stepped up to provide the location, security and support staff.”

Walters went onto say that the goal is to be able to move 40-50 people through the clinic in an hour, so there will be no walk-ins. She emphasized also that only designated groups will be vaccinated according to the CDC guidelines.

“We are focusing on subgroups within that 1A category,” she said. “Within Butler Health System, our goal is to focus first on healthcare and then in the elderly population — so first those people over the age of 75 because these are the individuals that we see being most affected negatively should they get the virus.”

According to the hospital’s press release, “Butler Health System leadership is firmly committed to vaccinating all who are eligible as quickly and thoroughly as vaccine is received from PA DOH.”

“To date Butler Health System has administered approximately 5,000 doses of vaccine and regularly asks the DOH for additional supply,” the release continues.

Walters also said that the clinic will focus on area residents first.

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“We do get a number of calls outside our service area — Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Erie — and we’re really trying to focus on our community [which includes] Butler, Clarion and Forest counties,” she said.

Walters praised the volunteers who have stepped up to staff the clinic.

“We’ve been really fortunate,” she said. “We’ve had a number of staff who retired recently or were planning to retire who came forward and said we would love to help administer the vaccine.”

Regarding the scheduling of appointments, Walters indicated that it will most likely be handled online.

“We did have online scheduling open last week, but we closed that because the number of registrations greatly outnumbered the vaccines,” she said. “As we get additional vaccines in, I believe that online registration will open.”

Residents are encouraged to frequently visit the hospital’s website at www.butlerhealthsystem.org/CoronaVirus/COVID-19-Vaccine.aspx for available appointments and eligibility requirements.

Tharan also pointed out that there is a link on Clarion County’s website to connect residents to the Butler Health System site.

With the new site set to be ready today, Wednesday, Jan. 27, Tharan said the cost to rent the building will be paid our of the county’s general fund.

“It’s the taxpayers’ money, so we’re going to spend it on the taxpayers,” he said, noting that he believes helping to offer vaccines is the least the county can do for its residents. “It’s our obligation to take care of our citizens.”

Other Business

• Tharan announced that the first floor of the county Administration Building will partially open to the public beginning Feb. 8.

“We want to make our Elections department available for people who want petitions,” Tharan said, noting that the treasurer’s office is also open, and Veterans’ Affairs will be open by appointment.

• The commissioners approved for the county to serve as a pass-through for $16,463.70 in COVID-19 funding to Medical Transportation Management (MTM) for supplemental funding due to the pandemic.

“This is something that PennDOT, through the federal government, has offered for anyone who had a loss due to COVID in public transportation, Share Ride,” administrative officer Mary Lutz said, noting that MTM showed a loss of $33,000, just over 49 percent of which was considered its Share Ride portion. “That is where the $16,463 amount comes from.”

She pointed out that the county itself did not report a loss.

• Heasley was reelected as chairman of the county’s Election Board.

• County Planning director Kristi Amato reported that Clarion County was recently informed by DCED that it had been awarded an additional $31 in 2020 CDBG funds, bringing the county’s total allocation to $243,728.

After hearing that the county had three possible projects to award the extra money to, the commissioners agreed to give the additional funding to Rimersburg Borough Municipal Authority’s Chestnut Street water line project. The other two projects, one in Foxburg and the other in Washington Township, were fully funded with the first allocation.

Amato also reported that Clarion Borough received an additional $19 in CDBG funding, while Clarion Township received and additional $14.

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