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February 23, 2021, Watsonville, California – During a time of growing concern over the inequity of COVID-19 vaccination distribution, Dignity Health-Dominican Hospital of Santa Cruz took special care to reach out to essential workers who might otherwise have been overlooked. The hospital oversaw the vaccination of roughly 1,100 agriculture workers in Watsonville, California.

Dr. Nanette Mickiewicz, President and CEO of Dominican Hospital, said the hospital received vaccine from CommonSpirit Health, its healthcare system. After vaccinating its healthcare partners and employees, Dominican Hospital was directed to use the excess vaccine within seven days. 

The hospital’s Director of Community Benefits, Dominique Hollister, reached out to the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau and the California Strawberry Commission. “They had been working on a plan to prioritize vaccinations so that when they became available, it would be easy to distribute them,” Nan said. “We decided to try from an equity standpoint to get [the vaccine] to the county. We’ve seen a disproportionate number of people who got COVID-19 from here because of the close quarters.”

Much of the groundwork had already been laid by the Farm Bureau and the Strawberry Commission, who had compiled a list of people in Watsonville who needed to be vaccinated. “We got them all in our computer system, as many as we could,” Nan explained. 

“It was an amazing outpouring of service,” Nan said. A crew of volunteer physicians and nurses went to Casserly Hall in Watsonville to vaccinate the agriculture workers during a two-day clinic, she explained. In addition, 13 volunteers from the community registered the patients outside of the hall. While the agriculture workers stayed in the hall for 15 minutes after being vaccinated, doctors and nurses monitored them for possible reactions to the vaccine. 

The volunteers who ran the vaccination clinic were also attentive to the special needs of the agriculture workers. All of the information on the vaccines was in Spanish as well as in English, and some volunteers were able to communicate with patients who didn’t speak standard Spanish. Volunteers also helped those who couldn’t read. 

During the clinic, participants were also given appointments to receive the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. In most cases, Nan said, the agriculture workers were brought to the clinic by their employers, who will make sure that they return for their second dose. 

The agriculture workers are not the only special group that Dominican Hospital has vaccinated. Recently, volunteers from the hospital also vaccinated 600-700 pre-school to first-grade teachers at the request of the Superintendent of Schools, who approached Nan during the clinic for the agriculture workers. 

Vaccination of the teachers in the lower grades would allow the schools to be opened up, Nan said. “It would be amazing to have children back in school,” she said. “We have a lot of employees who left the work force or took a leave of absence because they had to teach their children at home.”

Nan, her husband, and other physicians from Dominican Hospital also spent New Year’s Eve vaccinating about 100 residents of Dominican Oaks, a retirement apartment complex behind the hospital. 

“We are trying to be targeted in our approach,” Nan explained. “We work with the health officer to make sure we don’t get too far ahead.”

Dominican Hospital has been using the Pfizer vaccine. “Pfizer is very challenging because of the temperatures that are involved,” storage at about ­-70 degrees Centigrade, Nan explained. “Our goal is to wind down our vaccination efforts in the next few weeks and pass the baton on to doctors’ offices.” The doctors’ offices will use the Moderna vaccine, which doesn’t require storage at such low temperatures, she added.

Nan said the hospital’s efforts in vaccinating populations such as the agriculture workers are very consistent with its mission. “We’ve been here 80 years,” she said. “Our mission is always to take care of the community, including our disenfranchised community members. That’s why we wanted to do outreach – to get to people who might not necessarily have access to the vaccine.”

Nan said she is especially gratified by the attitude of the physicians and other employees. “They want to keep this going,” she said. “They believe in the mission.”

Founded and long sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters, Dominican Hospital is now a part of the CommonSpirit Health, a Catholic healthcare system created in February 2019 through the alignment of Catholic Health Initiatives and Dignity Health. The Adrian Dominican Congregation is now one of 16 participating congregations of women religious with connections to CommonSpirit.


Feature photo: Photo by RF._.studio from Pexels

December 21, 2020, Henderson, Nevada, and Santa Cruz, California – As Advent, the season of waiting, comes to a close, employees at hospitals founded by the Adrian Dominican Sisters came to the end of their nine months of waiting. Front-line employees of Dignity Health-St. Rose Dominican Hospitals in Henderson and Las Vegas, Nevada, and Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, California, began to receive vaccinations for the COVID-19 virus.

Sister Phyllis Sikora, OP

“One person said, ‘I finally feel that there’s hope,’” said Sister Phyllis Sikora, OP, Nevada Service Area Vice President of Mission Integration and Spiritual Care for St. Rose Dominican Hospitals. “They’ve been battling this for nine months and now are able to feel that they’re getting something to protect themselves and their families.”

Vaccination began at 5:00 p.m. December 16, 2020, for the hospital system’s front-line workers – those in the Emergency Department, the Intensive Care Unit, and others who work directly with COVID-19 patients. “We’re vaccinating high priorities employees and will keep going down until everyone is vaccinated,” Sister Phyllis explained. “I’m one of the last on the list.”

The vaccination process was coordinated by CommonSpirit Health, a healthcare system that includes 700 care sites and 142 hospitals in 21 states – including both St. Rose Dominican Hospitals and Dominican Hospital. CommonSpirit collaborated with the U.S. government, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of Nevada, and the hospitals to determine how many vaccinations would be needed. 

The first to give and receive the vaccine at the San Martin Campus of St. Rose Dominican Hospitals receive a special blessing.

Sister Phyllis said the vaccination is voluntary for St. Rose Dominican staff members. To avoid long lines, the front-line employees were invited to register for a time to receive the vaccine and encouraged to set the appointment on their last shift for the week in case they have a reaction to the shot. 

While Sister Phyllis and the Mission Integration and Spiritual Care Department are not directly involved in giving the vaccines, they continued their ministry throughout the pandemic of reaching out in support to the front-line workers. 

In an email announcing the vaccine, Sister Phyllis extended her gratitude to them. “We here in Mission Integration and Spiritual Care are grateful and thankful for all you have done over the last nine months,” she wrote. “You are all heroes in our eyes, continuing to care for and comfort our patients through their fear and pain.”

Members of Sister Phyllis’ department showed their encouragement by blessing the spaces where the vaccinations are to take place, as well as the first vaccine giver and receiver at each of the three campuses of St. Rose Dominican Hospitals. Sister Phyllis blessed the first two to give and receive the vaccine at the Rose de Lima Campus in Henderson, Nevada. The blessings were symbolic and meant to extend to all who give and receive vaccines at St. Rose Dominican Hospitals.

Sister Rita Eileen Dean, OP

The vaccine arrived at Dominican Hospital on December 16, just as Santa Cruz, California was experiencing high numbers of COVID-19 cases, resulting in a lock-down. “Right now we’re at our peak,” said Sister Rita Eileen Dean, OP, Vice President of Mission Integration. “We still have beds available, but not many.” 

Dominican Hospital “test-drove the vaccine with seven patients,” Sister Rita Eileen said.  “We received somewhere close to 1,250 doses. One of the doctors said this is the best Christmas because this vaccine gives him hope.”

The vaccination clinic opened on December 17 and will be open daily from 7:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. “So far they’re making people stay for 35 minutes after they get the shots,” she explained. “They say the reaction, if there is one, will come within 35 minutes.” So far, she said, none of the recipients has had a reaction.

Dominican Hospital is first giving the vaccines to employees who work directly with COVID-19 patients. “We think the vaccine will be going to nursing homes next, and I’m hoping Dominican Oaks [where some Adrian Dominican Sisters live] will be included.”

Sister Rita Eileen said that Dominican Hospital is blessed by special resources, including a deep freezer to store the vaccine in, as well as the use of the deep freezer of nearby University of California-Santa Cruz. In addition, the hospital can handle up to 240 tests per day and sends them to the lab at a CommonSpirit Health hospital in Phoenix. “We are letting more people get testing because that was a hold-up for awhile.” 

Sister Rita Eileen is realistic but hopeful. “I think it’ll be months before everyone is vaccinated,” she said. “I don’t see this ending any time soon. At least we’re on the right track. We’re moving along and this is a good Christmas. We’ve got something to work with and we can do it. There’s hope on the horizon.”

Feature photo (top): Kimberly Shaw, a nurse and President and CEO of the San Martin Campus, administers the vaccine.

Leadership from the Siena Campus of St. Rose Dominican Hospitals prepares for the vaccine.



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