BlueCross nurses join the front lines at COVID-19 vaccination sites

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Amanda Haskew, BCBST News Center, May 6, 2021

As COVID-19 vaccinations continue across Tennessee, local health departments and organizations have sought registered nurses to help. BlueCross has more than 950 nurses on staff to support our members, and when the call for vaccination volunteers went out, they answered. Our nurses offered their time and services to help their neighbors get vaccinated and help contain the spread of COVID-19.

We spoke to some of these volunteers about their experiences and why they feel it’s important for everyone to get the vaccine.

Kelly Rice, Janice Brazier and Bethany Young: Hamilton County Health Department

The Hamilton County Health Department has been hosting drive-through vaccination events for Chattanooga residents since the vaccine first became available. The vaccines are being distributed at three area sites, all of which are supported by Health Department staff and a variety of local volunteers.

Kelly Rice

Kelly Rice, a case manager in BlueCare, has worked at BlueCross for four years. In her role, she helps Medicaid members understand their diagnoses, medications, and the importance of working with their health care providers to improve their health.

“I wanted to volunteer to help our community. There’s such a need for nurses to help administer vaccines. And I believe it’s important for everyone to get vaccinated for the health and protection of our families, friends and community as a whole,” she says.

Kelly volunteered at the Health Department’s Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA) bus barn site. The day was full of positive, memorable encounters.

“Everyone was so excited. One woman I saw cried tears of joy after she received her vaccine. She said she would be able to hug her children and grandchildren, who she hadn’t seen in over a year.”

Janice Brazier is a manager for BlueCare’s SelectCommunity program, which supports members with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She also volunteered to administer vaccines at the CARTA bus barn site.

Janice Brazier (left) with fellow BlueCross volunteer, Kacey Ibrahim

Despite her volunteer shift being cut short due to severe weather in the area, Janice estimates that she and partners vaccinated more than 40 residents in about 3.5 hours.

“The entire experience was very enjoyable and memorable. It was great being able to provide a service to the community and lend a hand to my fellow health care workers,” she says.

Bethany Young, inpatient services manager in Medicare Advantage Medical Management, volunteered at the Health Department’s Enterprise South site, located north of downtown Chattanooga.

“The past year has been long and difficult for so many of our members, friends and family,” she says. “It is going to take everyone working together to win this war against COVID-19, and I wanted to be part of the solution for the health of our community.”

Bethany Young

Bethany worked in the pharmacy, mixing the vaccine and prepping syringes to ensure doses were available for groups of recipients driving through the site. She spent her volunteer shift alongside nurses and pharmacists from the health department. “These staff members have put in countless hours and missed family time in order to serve Hamilton County,” she says. “They impressed me with their dedication to the community, and I am happy I was able to support them and their work.”By the end of the day, Bethany estimates she and the other three members of the pharmacy team prepared 1,000 injections. 

For the Hamilton County Health Department, volunteer support has been critical to the success of these vaccination events. “We are grateful to everyone from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee who volunteered at the vaccination sites and helped the Health Department with this massive public health response to COVID-19,” says Becky Barnes, Hamilton County Health Department administrator. “It is because of our community partners at BlueCross and other organizations that we are able to staff several vaccination sites and provide this lifesaving service to the community.”

Laura Apyan: One-to-One Health

Laura Apyan

Chattanooga-area provider One-to-One Health organized a series of vaccination events for Hamilton County Schools teachers and staff, ensuring these front-line workers were able to receive their vaccines as soon as possible.

Laura Apyan, an RN case manager for the Healthy Maternity program at BlueCross, has more than 40 years of experience as a nurse in various clinical settings, including 18 years in labor and delivery. She volunteered to administer vaccines and was assigned to an event at East Ridge Elementary School.

“The clinic was well run and the staff was very welcoming of the volunteers who came to help,” she says. “One of the people who came to be vaccinated commented that it was ‘as efficient as the drive-through at a Chick-Fil-A.’”

The clinic was set up inside the school’s gym with 18 stations and two nurses assigned at each to administer vaccines. Laura personally gave between 50-60 shots.

“I had the opportunity to give shots to everyone from administrative assistants and principals to coaches,” Laura says. “All were very grateful to be vaccinated as they were going back to full-time school with their students.”

Jenna Murphy: Blount Discount Pharmacy

In Maryville, Blount Discount Pharmacy hosted a drive-through vaccine clinic for local residents. Appointments filled up within 48 hours of availability, and the site had seven lanes of traffic for vaccinations, all manned by community volunteers.

Jenna Murphy is a care coordinator for the BlueCare CHOICES program. She provides nursing assessments and education to help members better manage their health conditions so they can successfully remain in a community or home setting.

Jenna Murphy (center) and her family members volunteering at the Blount Discount Pharmacy vaccination event

When Jenna heard about the opportunity to lend a hand, she was ready to help.

While the event ran from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., Jenna estimates they vaccinated almost 400 people by noon and used all available doses by the end of the day.

“I knew I was making a difference, but when person after person is genuinely thanking you – one with tears, one asking to hug me, a couple wanting a photo with me – it hits a little harder,” she adds. “There were literally lines of people smiling and excited to take their turn, saying they were doing it so they could make a difference, too.”

“I wanted to pay it forward and do something to help my community,” Jenna says. “For some, vaccination is the difference between life and death – it’s hope in action.”

Read the full article on BCBST’s News Center.