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June 02, 2021

Tens of thousands of COVID vaccinations: Two people behind the scenes at one clinic

IU Health Methodist Hospital

Tens of thousands of COVID vaccinations: Two people behind the scenes at one clinic

They work tirelessly, coordinating the sites that administer the life-saving vaccine. Here’s a look at two of IU Health’s team leaders.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

When Indianapolis Fire Department Chief, Kenneth Bacon received the 20,000th dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on January 20th, there was much cause for celebration.

Kenneth Bacon receives his COVID-19 Vaccine

In fact, there was applause as Kristen Kelley, IU Health’s director of infection prevention showed appreciation for fellow team members.

“There’s a diverse group of health care workers volunteering. It’s bringing us all together and that brings us so much joy,” said Kelley.

Quietly working behind-the-scenes are two IU Health employees responsible for choreographing the daily “dance” at the vaccine clinics. Mary Kay Foster serves as IU Health’s program manager for the special pathogens program, and Heather Fidler serves as project manager for the program.

On any given day, Foster can be found calmly walking the hallway at the vaccine clinic inside the IU Health Neuroscience Center. She sweeps the room where vaccines are being administered, asking if there are questions or concerns. She checks in with nurses at the monitoring area to inquire about patients who were recently inoculated. She peeks into the corridor to ensure the safety of senior patients making their way toward the clinic.

In between her steps, Foster is working at command central ironing out details for parking, accessibility, and staffing. And above all, she’s focused on compliance – reducing the spread of a deadly disease that has swept our state, our nation, our world.

She’s spent her career as a nurse and clinician. Foster is also an organizer, a problem solver, a big-picture event planner. She’s sought after for advice, interviews, and knowledge. And during the past two months, that big event has also made Foster part of the rich history of IU Health.

Team member Heather Fidler is also part of that rich history. She spends her days organizing hundreds of volunteers – clinical and non-clinical. They take on roles such as registration, vaccination, traffic control, and patient monitoring. Like a proper hostess, Foster prepares for the influx of guests – some stepping foot outside the comfort of their homes for the first time in months. She wants to be sure the clinic workers are well cared for – plenty of snacks and water during their shifts. Above all else, Fidler works to avoid glitches in the system so that every patient receives the best care.

Through that coordinated effort, as of January 25th there have been 1,764 volunteers, including 137 first and second-year medical students, and 858 volunteers who have worked at least one shift at the vaccine clinic. Volunteers have averaged 21 hours in the clinic. There are an additional 432 volunteers on the wait list. As of January 25th there have been 25,000 vaccinations administered.

“I love having volunteers from all over IU Health and IU Health Physicians. We have unit secretaries, EVS staff and doctors sitting next to VPs and directors doing the same job, helping each other,” said Fidler. “The frontline workers and public who come in are so thankful. It warms your heart to talk with them. Some of the older population hasn’t left their homes since this all started. This is their first outing and they are scared but excited to get the shot and they just want to talk to you,” said Fidler. “I think the volunteers are working because it’s so uplifting, we are giving hope.”

Foster began her nursing career in 1985. She joined the IU Health Infection Prevention Program in 2012. Since the start of her career she has experienced three pandemics including HIV, H1N1 and now COVID-19. She began heading up IU Health’s Special Pathogens Unit in 2014 when the Ebola virus began spreading throughout the U.S.

“The big difference between Ebola and COVID is that we are prepared to handle one special pathogens person at a time that imported into the U.S. The COVID pandemic is a special pathogens case but due to the huge numbers everyone must be able to care for these patients,” said Foster.

When asked how many hours she has spent preparing for the vaccine clinic since late November 2020, Foster said, “There are many moving parts. It has taken a team to handle the complexity of the clinic.” In addition to her fellow IU Health team members, Foster’s interactions include representation from the Marion County Public Health Department, the Indiana State Department of Health, Indianapolis Emergency Medical Services, and countless other health services.

To prepare for the injection of the history-making vaccine, Foster helped organize a makeshift site. Clinicians practiced a trial run each step in the process - getting the serum into the arms of patients. In addiction to bringing a calm presence to the room, Foster is focused on compliance - ready to remind patients that even after the vaccine they should continue to wear their masks, and practice social distancing.

“Being certified in both Infection Prevention and Emergency Management, I like to have my backup plan and its backup plan. The clinic has been designed to be very flexible,” said Foster.

When the first vaccine was administered on Dec. 16, 2020, IU Health made history as one of the first health care facilities in the United States designated to administer the Pfizer vaccine. Foster administered the first dose to IU Health's Dr. Steven Roumpf.

In the past month, an estimated 8-10,000 vaccines have been administered each week. Foster looks for that number to increase as warmer weather comes, and there is hope for drive-through clinics.

“I often encourage team members who are exhausted and weary from months spent caring for COVID-19 patients to come and visit the clinic,” said Foster. “The clinic has been a great source of pure joy and relief for everyone who is working it or coming through to get their vaccine.”

Find out more about the COVID-19 vaccine.

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