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NUMC to serve as regional hub for COVID vaccine

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt Allina Health CEO Dr. Penny Wheeler visited with NUMC Monday to thank the medical staff for their hard work during the pandemic. (L to R: Penny Wheeler, Dr Brittney Brindle, RN Mariah Strehler, RN Tosh Sandmann, RN Angie Mack and RN Amy Hauser.)

NEW ULM — New Ulm Medical Center (NUMC) will receive doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination next week and will serve as a regional hub for storing and distributing the vaccine.

Front line medical personnel will be the first to receive the vaccine. Allina Health is scheduled to receive approximately 12,500 doses of the vaccine. Allina Health has around 28,000 employees. These first doses will vaccinate under half of the employees.

The exact number of doses coming to NUMC is unknown, but the facility will be used as a regional hub for distribution because of the medical center’s cold storage capabilities.

The COVID vaccine must be stored at -80 degrees Fahrenheit and not all medical centers have this storage capability.

NUMC Director Toby Freier said the New Ulm facility was one of the few medical centers in the region to have coolers cold enough to store the vaccine. The reason NUMC had the cooler storage at all was because of the Heart of New Ulm program.

The Heart of New Ulm program required a long-term storage space of samples to conduct the decade-long study. This same storage unit used for Heart of New Ulm will now be used to store doses of the much needed COVID vaccine.

Freier said they are working on a plan to vaccinate local front-line medical workers next week. A second dose of the vaccine is required 21 days after the first. Allina has been guaranteed to receive the second dose by that time. The second dose will be administered in January.

Front line healthcare workers were prioritized for the vaccine as they are the most likely to get sick.

“Every day we have staff out sick or a family member out sick,” Freier said. NUMC is trying to protect the staff as much as possible during the pandemic. The vaccine is one more way to offer protection on the frontline, in addition to face masks, face shields, gloves and gowns.

Prioritizing healthcare workers is also an opportunity for working out any issues with administering the vaccine. Freier said there was a great deal of complexity in the roll-out of the vaccine and staff can learn the process by first vaccinating healthcare workers.

It is unknown how many doses Allina or NUMC will receive in later weeks, but the facility is expected to receive weekly shipments. NUMC will be a regional hub for five or six other facilities. The state will help coordinate the distribution.

Allina Health CEO Penny Wheeler visited NUMC Monday morning. Wheeler said her visit was to say thank you to the staff for their hard work.

“For those serving during this time, a hero is not enough to describe them,” Wheeler said. The pandemic has been a struggle for all Allina Health employees. Wheeler said for Allina Health the worst of the pandemic hit two weeks ago. Hospitals’ beds across the Allina system, including in New Ulm, were filled with COVID patients. The spread of the infection has become extreme.

The amount of COVID cases has decreased from a high point. The vaccine could represent the light at the end of the tunnel.

In addition to visiting NUMC, Wheeler visited the Springfield Medical Center, acquired by Allina Health in April.

The Springfield medical center was scheduled to close before Allina agreed to take over the operation. The switch over occurred right as the pandemic became a national emergency.

Wheeler said several people in Springfield express gratitude for Allina keeping the hospital going.

“I am pleased because they are pleased,” Wheeler said.

Under the circumstances of the pandemic, having additional regional medical centers is a benefit.

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