Editor’s Note: Reprinted from the April issue of GCU Magazine. For the digital version of the magazine, click here.
By Lana Sweeten-Shults
“Hi guys! Congratulations on taking the picture. You did!” a pumped Eric Silvernail claps loudly. The Veterans Affairs contractor and volunteer at Grand Canyon University’s COVID-19 Point of Dispensing vaccination site applauds as Arthur blodgett and wife Sherry Wisbey drive alongside him in their van, dance music playing in the background.
The couple traveled 30 miles east of Mesa to the site for their first dose of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine.
After just 10 minutes online, maneuvering around the Canyon Ventures building, filtering through the check-in, and quickly stopping under a row of tents to take their photos, they had accomplished what had seemed impossible a few weeks earlier.
Like Blodgett and Wisbey, GCU also accomplished what seemed impossible.
When POD opened on January 26, the goal was to vaccinate 500 to 800 people per day, five days a week. Now volunteers at the site, located in the University’s 27th Avenue shopping complex, administered an average of more than 1,700 doses per day, six days a week, during the first three weeks of March. On April 15, it reached 100,000 vaccinations.
Based on his conversations with supervisors of other PODs, GCU Emergency Preparedness Manager Marcus Castle estimates the site’s throughput rate to be the highest in Maricopa County, which means volunteers are moving vaccine recipients around the site and getting them vaccinated at a breakneck pace.
And GCU doesn’t stop there.
Castle would love to see 2,000 shots administered every day, especially in the arms of vulnerable communities that GCU calls its neighbors. He broke the 50,000 mark in his first 38 days and the 100,000 mark just over a month later.
He is able to achieve these numbers thanks to the event services and hospitality program representatives who are well versed in handling large events, such as the welcome week. Castle thanks these teams, experts in traffic flow, event planning, volunteer relations and logistics, for helping to make POD as efficient as it is.
âThey are like our Alexa. You say it and “Wait, he’s here!” Said the director of the Canyon Health and Wellness clinic. Connie colbert, which runs the POD site alongside Castle.
Although GCU’s vaccination location is not the largest in Maricopa County, and although these numbers may seem modest compared to the production at the State Farm stage, a stadium-sized vaccination center, Castle said what those numbers mean to him is that a lot more people might not. get seriously ill or die from the virus, all because GCU chose to do something.
âIt’s even more than we would have done if we had just sat there and waited,â Castle said. “I think it’s an important element.”
GCU’s unique approach
This exponential trajectory is quite an achievement for the University, whose leaders, a year ago, never imagined that GCU would move from teaching students to running a vaccination site during a pandemic. historical world.
In December, Maricopa County asked GCU for volunteers to manage its PODs, and GCU nursing students helped fill that void. But the university, in partnership with the county, also wanted to run its own site and operate it in a way that would reflect the values ââof a Christian university.
After just 10 days of setting up the site, he did.
What’s unique about the GCU vaccination center is that while other sites contract with the county, which pays the sites several thousand dollars a day, GCU does it for free.
Not that the county is without intervention. It provides volunteers, all the help POD needs, and over five dozen iPads that volunteers use to register anyone who qualifies for shooting.
“It’s really GCU stepping up and saying we want to help and be part of the solution, to quote the president (of the university) (Brian) Mueller. That’s one of the ways to do it, âCastle said from POD’s bustling command center, where he sits next to a cutout of Mueller, his fists puffed up in the air with a quote bubble. who says: “You are doing well!”
Because GCU is not funded by the county or state, it relies on 100-150 students, staff, faculty, and volunteers in Maricopa County daily. Campus officials were also determined to make POD part of its Christian mission to be a transforming force in the community.
The University wanted to make sure it served its neighbors, an underserved community of essential workers, immigrants and refugees who live in an area of ââwestern Phoenix where COVID-19 infection rates are among the highest in the state.
It meant doing something else that no other site did – providing a tour option for anyone without their own transportation.
The GCU POD also maintains a help register. On-site volunteers help anyone who doesn’t have a computer at home, may not have Internet access, or is having difficulty using technology.
âIt’s something that’s unique to us, too, because we’ve identified this as another important piece of community that’s needed,â Castle said. âWe want to make sure we can answer all questions. If that’s all we can do, then we’ve done our job.
Colbert remembers a woman who came to the site. She has cancer but could not get an appointment. âShe ended up coming to our date, and we got her that day,â Colbert said, adding that grateful wasn’t a strong enough word to describe her reaction.
âWe’ve had people driving and driving and driving,â Castle said. “‘Can you help us?’ And we can do something for them. That’s really the big story here. We’ve added a community approach.
âMy goal is for you to leave our site with a vaccine, with an appointment in the near future, or at least some sort of educational paper to help you make an appointment once you have qualified.â
Partnership with the consulate
The vaccination goal is particularly important to Castle in its service to these underserved communities. Perhaps the most fitting example of how the University achieves this is through its partnership with the Phoenix office of the Mexican Consulate General.
It was during a debriefing meeting that Mueller and Colangelo College of Business Professor Eduardo Borquez started talking about the vaccination center.
“I saw our president worrying that the community around us was not getting the vaccine, which was one of the reasons we as a university wanted to have the center,” said Borquez.
They spoke of the difficulties in reaching these vulnerable communities: lack of technological knowledge, lack of access to technology, not knowing how to register, not speaking English and not being able to find the vaccination site.
âSo while the vaccine was in their community, they didn’t have access to it,â Borquez said.
It was then that he offered to connect Castle and his team to the consulate. In March, the GCU sent Spanish-speaking volunteers to the consulate to vaccinate employees at that office and register voters for nominations. More than 70 of them were vaccinated at the University this first weekend of the vaccination partnership.
âAs a university, we really got to meet our community where it is,â Borquez said.
Castle said, âOne thing we learned early on is that there is such a great piece of education. Working at the consulate, helping them, training them – this is one of those pieces that shows that we are moving in the right direction.
The magic of volunteers
Cristina Maldonado, a GCU health education major, knew she too was heading in the right direction during one of her many volunteer changes at the site when it happened: âThere was this lady and her. mother – you know we have a waiting list. They waited four hours to get vaccinated. The daughter received her second dose and the mother received her first dose. They were so grateful.
They said, ‘It was worth the wait.’ “
This made Maldonado aware of the importance of the work done by GCU. âIt changed everything for me,â she says.
Maldonado, who is also a student worker, will often continue to volunteer at the POD site for two or three hours after her shift ends.
âI love hearing people’s reactions,â she says. “It makes me think, I guess we’re doing a really good job here.”
Second year nursing major Judith Torres Ruiz spends about 32 hours per week at the vaccination center, 20 as a student worker and the rest as a volunteer.
âWe’re part of history in a way,â she said, explaining why she spends so much time at POD.
But it’s the people who inspire her to continue volunteering.
âWe made people cry because they are so grateful,â Torres Ruiz said. “Honestly, the people who are so grateful to us are what keep me coming back.”
At the end of the day, “it’s caring for each other,” Castle said.
During his career in emergency management, he didn’t quite feel the same kind of attention he feels in GCU.
It has been a difficult year, he said, with so much time spent away from his family to help care for the families of other people in their most difficult times.
âHaving people who really care about the community and want to do what’s best for the community – not for some other reason that it’s the right thing to do – that’s what makes it special. . “
GCU Senior Editor Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [emailÂ protected] or at 602-639-7901.
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