BRATTLEBORO — With a high vaccination rate statewide and in the community, but wanting to remain ready for mass vaccinations in case a booster shot is needed in the near future, Brattleboro Memorial Hospital is shifting to a new model for COVID-19 services.
BMH opened the COVID Vaccination and Testing Center on Tuesday, moving the services for testing and vaccinations at the hospital to a combined unit attached to Brattleboro Family Medicine at 53 Fairview St. The transition is looked at as an intermediary phase before primary care physicians associated with the hospital start administering shots.
“We don’t think it’s best practice to go through primary care practices yet,” said Eilidh J. Pederson, chief operating officer at BMH.
Pederson described the transition to the new center as not being too extensive. She said signs had to be moved and workflows changed a bit.
Previously, testing happened behind the hospital’s Richards Building and vaccinations were administered in the hospital’s Brew Berry conference rooms.
The hospital has all three vaccines authorized for use in the United States but it is making doses of the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines most readily available because Pfizer is approved for younger ages and J&J removes the barrier of requiring a second shot, Pederson said. Patients will now have a choice of which vaccine they receive.
“In the beginning, we were on allocation so we had to take whatever we got and that was it,” Pederson said. “Luckily, things have opened up a bit more.”
Hospital staff believe that allowing patients to make the choice for which vaccine they want may help with those who have been hesitant about getting a shot.
“The name of the game is let’s remove any and all barriers that we can,” Pederson said.
Walk-in appointments will be welcome and patients can still schedule appointments using the state’s testing/vaccination registration system if they prefer having a set time.
The services will be funded through a contract with the Vermont Department of Health and the Agency of Human Services. Patients will not be billed for these services regardless of whether they have insurance.
Pederson said the contract goes through the end of the year and covers the fall period when booster shots could be deemed necessary. For now, there are no plans for any of the mobile clinics offered earlier in the pandemic.
A team of about five full-time staff members will be handling work at the center. Pederson said a few staff members who worked per diem, or on nights or weekends, and “filled in gaps here and there, will go back to their usual place of work in the hospital.”
Just like vaccinations, the demand for testing has decreased. Although on Tuesday, staff at the center reported having a lot more appointments for tests than in the recent past.
If someone is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and wants a test, they will need to receive an order from their primary care provider. For those without symptoms who need a test to travel or do something else, testing does not require a doctor’s order and can be scheduled via the state’s system.
The center will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Signs on Fairview Street, a couple of blocks away from the hospital, provide guidance for patients unfamiliar with the location. When patients arrive, they will be directed to designated parking spots with a phone number to call to let staff know they arrived.
Vaccination appointments can be made at healthvermont.gov/covid-19/vaccine/getting-covid-19-vaccine. Testing registration can be completed at healthvermont.gov/covid-19/testing.
Questions can be directed to the hospital by calling 802-257-0341. All staff are well versed in the new model, Pederson said.