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Jim Kenyon: Hospitals are taking their shots, especially for their employees

  • Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Columnist
Published: 3/6/2021 10:46:54 PM
Modified: 3/6/2021 10:46:53 PM

I don’t think anyone questions that doctors, nurses and other hospital workers involved in caring for patients deserve to be at the front of the line for COVID-19 vaccines.

But what about hospital employees who don’t come face-to-face with patients, work in hospital labs or mop operating room floors?

I’m talking about people in administration, marketing and fundraising — to name just a few of the hospital jobs where going to work every day doesn’t significantly increase the risk of contracting the coronavirus more than any other office job.

Do most, if not all, hospital employees deserve priority treatment?

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon and other hospitals around New Hampshire appear to think so.

In recent weeks, I’ve heard about DHMC giving vaccines to employees in nonmedical departments whose offices aren’t even located on hospital grounds. I’m told DHMC has also immunized some employees who have worked at home since early in the pandemic.

Elected officials are constantly reminding us that vaccines remain in short supply. But some hospitals appear to excel at taking care of their own.

Each week, the state Department of Health and Human Services, or DHHS for short, releases a report about how many doses have been distributed and where they’ve gone since New Hampshire began administering vaccines in mid-December.

Through Feb. 25, DHMC, the flagship of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock health care system, had received 14,895 doses — nearly 5% of the 308,245 doses distributed statewide.

Last week, I asked DHMC for a breakdown on how many vaccines went to physicians, nurses, administrators and other employees.

I didn’t get much of an answer, which wasn’t unusual. The multibillion-dollar health care powerhouse prefers to keep the public in the dark about its inner workings.

In an email, Audra Burns, D-H’s media relations manager, would only say that D-H has administered its state-allocated vaccine doses to “employees and health care workers who were identified” in the initial phases of New Hampshire’s rollout plan.

DHMC has more than 8,000 employees, according to its website. Through Feb. 25, DHMC had administered about 8,600 first doses and 7,600 second doses, the state reported. (The combined figure exceeds the total number of doses that DHMC received due to the ability to sometimes get extra doses out of a single vial.)

Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital in Lebanon, which is also part of the D-H system, has received about 800 doses from the state. They’ve all been used to “vaccinate our employees,” APD Vice President of External Affairs Peter Glenshaw told me in an email.

Roughly 500 employees (APD’s website says the hospital has 600 workers) were identified early on as being eligible for the vaccine, Glenshaw said. He didn’t respond when I asked if he and other administrators were among the 420 APD employees who opted for shots.

Cottage Hospital in Woodsville, which is not part of the D-H system, was sent 385 doses. The hospital doesn’t anticipate receiving any more, said Dhaniele Duffy, the hospital’s community relations liaison. Like Glenshaw, Duffy didn’t respond when I asked in an email if she and other administrators were among the employees to get shots.

Through Feb. 25, New Hampshire had sent nearly 80,000 doses to 29 hospitals. Nine of those hospitals were picked by the state to run public vaccination sites. None are in the Upper Valley — not even D-H, which considers itself a world-class medical center.

DHHS data doesn’t indicate how many of the 80,000 shots allocated to hospitals went into the arms of their employees. And a bigger question: Why did New Hampshire give hospitals 25% of the vaccines distributed statewide during the rollout’s first 2½ months?

Vanessa Stafford, vice president of communications for the New Hampshire Hospital Association, and Burns, the D-H spokeswoman, both referred me to the state’s allocation guidelines on the DHHS website.

Under the state’s rollout plan, “at-risk health workers” who have direct or limited contact with patients were among the first to get shots in Phase 1a. Other “health workers” were next in line during Phase 1b, which is currently ongoing.

Following the guidelines “set by the state, low-risk health care workers not already vaccinated and who are critical to maintaining the infrastructure and business operations of a hospital or health care facility are being prioritized through the Phase 1b vaccination process,” Stafford responded via email.

I guess that explains how just about anyone carrying a hospital employee ID badge — even if they’re working at home — can gain priority: They’re considered “health workers.”

Meanwhile, New Hampshire’s teachers were told for nearly 2½ months that they must wait. On Thursday, Gov. Chris Sununu announced that vaccines will finally be available to teachers, starting at the end of this week.

“There is some sense of relief,” said Lebanon High School teacher Andrew Gamble, who heads the teachers union. “It’s sad that it took the governor this long to do the right thing.”

When I talked with Gamble by phone, I picked up the loud chatter of students in the background. They were moving — at a teenager’s pace —through the hallway between classes. Lebanon students are good about wearing masks, but maintaining social distancing in parts of the school is tough, Gamble said.

Since the pandemic hit, public officials have been saying it’s essential to get kids back in classrooms full-time with their teachers. “Then when it comes to rolling out the vaccine,” Gamble said, “we’re told that we’re not a priority.”

Maybe teachers who were disappointed they didn’t have early access to vaccines should consider a different profession. I hear getting a shot is fairly easy if you work for a hospital, no matter what the job.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




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