Arrival of Vaccines Marks Start of ‘Proactive Intervention’ at Mercy

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – With more than 400 employees vaccinated against the coronavirus Tuesday, it was a “milestone day” for Mercy Health-Youngstown, said Dr. James Kravec, and the beginning of the end for the pandemic.

The health-care system received 4,800 doses of the Moderna vaccine, according to Kravec, Mercy Health-Youngstown’s chief clinical officer. Over the next few weeks, health-care workers at its hospice centers, standalone offices and trio of hospitals will receive the vaccine.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our team, of our employees who received their vaccine – our doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants,” Kravec said Tuesday evening after receiving the first dose of his vaccine, as well as administering a few to staff.

The inoculation also marked a shift in how Mercy faces the coronavirus pandemic, said its market president, Dr. John Luellen. Since mid-March, the system has been in “a reactive mode” and trying to defend themselves against the virus.

“This is really the first proactive intervention that we’ve been able to take as a community,” he said. “I think as we stood there today, watching this play out in real time, what struck all of us was this remarkable sense of optimism that existed amongst the staff, who’ve been struggling because they’ve been working long hours, dealing with their own personal struggles and dealing with patients who who are sicker than they should be in a normal year. I think this overwhelming sense of optimism is one that will resonate throughout the medical community.”

Also in the virtual press conference were three of Mercy’s frontline workers who received the first dose of the vaccination Tuesday. For staff who’ve already gotten their shot, an appointment for the required follow-up booster shot – given 28 days after the first – was scheduled, ensuring workers are fully protected.

“Today we made history. This was a first. I’m proud that I was able to receive this vaccine. I got it because, fortunately through this whole thing I’ve been able to stay healthy with masks and handwashing,” said Shareece Mashiska, a resident nurse manager at St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital. “My husband, who works at a prison, has also stayed healthy, along with our three kids. This is an added bonus to keep us and everyone we come in contact with healthy.”

For Brian Wharry, vice president of nursing at St. Elizabeth Boardman Hospital, the vaccine is “a leap forward” in the run of the pandemic.

“For so long, we’ve been stuck in this pandemic with hope and optimism. A lot of that may have been lost, but today we can sit here with a vaccine in front of us. There is light and we’re coming to the end,” he said. “Even though there are things we still have to do, at least we’re getting there.”

With the first vaccines administered, now is the time for inidivuals to step up and “do their part,” said Michael Ford, director of respiratory therapy.

“Pull together for your family, your friends, your coworkers, your loved ones, grandma, grandpa, the kids. Do for everyone that you care about. That’s the reason why I did it,” he said.

Although Mercy Health workers have gotten the first dose of the vaccine, they will not stop wearing protective equipment or end measures such as social distancing, Kravec said. It’s a move that he urged the general public to continue until vaccines are widely available next spring.

“We cannot take our masks off. We cannot stop social distancing. We cannot have big Christmas parties with our extended families who are not are not part of our homes. This is still not the end until there are more people in the community vaccinated,” he said. 

“I can’t go to the grocery store or to church or to work and not have a mask on because I received the first dose. Absolutely not. It’s going to take a period of time,” he continued, noting that Mercy Health will rely on guidance from local and state health departments and the Centers for Disease Control on when safety measures can be eased.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Ohio Department of Health announced it was set to receive its second shipment of Pfizer vaccines – an additional 89,700 doses on Thursday – as well as 69,700 more doses of the Moderna vaccine this week.

Jonathon Fauvie, communications manager for Mercy Health’s Great Lakes region, said it was too early to know if part of that shipment would come to the Mahoning Valley. Kravec did say, however, that the health-care system currently has enough doses to vaccinate all Mercy Health employees in the area.

“We are blessed that we had a nice supply of the Moderna vaccine, so we were really able to open up to our associates and we have a great number of availability of scheduling. We were able to squeeze in other people that maybe missed the scheduled opportunities,” he said. “We really have opened it up to all of our mercy health employees. We highly recommend that all Mercy Health employees and eventually all members of the community get vaccinated.”

In addition to the new shipments of vaccine, the state Department of Health announced it was moving into the second phase of the Pharmacy Long-Term Care Partnership program – locally administered by Walgreens and CVS – which will allow vaccines to be distributed to assisted living facilities, as well as residential care centers, care centers for those with developmental disabilities and continuing care retirement communities. 

Pictured: St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital resident nurse manager Shareece Mashiska receives her COVID-19 vaccine.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.