Physician buy-in a prescription for high vaccination rates
Nearly 95% of Peninsula FHT’s adult patients have received a COVID-19 vaccine
The Peninsula Family Health Team has gone above and beyond to ensure every eligible person in Northern Bruce Peninsula who wants the COVID-19 vaccine can get it.
And the team’s efforts, which included holding their own community vaccination clinics and reaching out to their 5,000 or so patients through a variety of mediums, is reflected in their exceptionally high vaccination rates, which are well above the Grey-Bruce and provincial rates.
A staggering 94 per cent of their adult patients have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 93 per cent are considered fully vaccinated with two doses. Seventy-five per cent of their patients have received a booster shot.
“It was easy for us to succeed because our entire team was totally committed from Day 1. We had, as the anchor, the full support from the physician group as well as all of our employees,” says Pamela Loughlean, executive director of the Peninsula FHT.
“Our little group had suddenly faced something we had never faced before with this vaccination rollout. But we knew we could do it right from the start. And we’d do it all again in a heartbeat.”
The Peninsula Family Health Team is a shining example of what can be accomplished when primary care providers not only agree to provide COVID-19 vaccines, but set a goal of offering the potentially life-saving shots to as many patients as possible.
“I’m not sure I could be more proud of this team,” says Dr. Jonathan Thomas, board chair of the Peninsula FHT. “Our success is even more paramount when you consider that our COVID-19 immunization efforts were all carried out on top of our regular full-time clinic duties.
“The general sentiment from the employees has been a desperation to help – a very personal desire to contribute: “how can I help?” and “what can I do to improve the health of my community?”
Loughlean says she has found the provincial COVaxON Vaccination Management System to be easy to learn and there have been no issues with billing.
The Peninsula Family Health Team comprises four full-time family physicians who support a combined 5,000-plus patients on the Bruce Peninsula – mostly from north of Wiarton to the tip of the peninsula in Tobermory.
“The physicians are true family medicine generalists who do primary care clinic, emergency medicine and manage their patients when admitted to hospital or long-term care, while also doing house calls and palliative care. Basically, if you need a physician on the peninsula, you’re going to run into one of these four physicians,” Loughlean said.
The FHT operates from sites in both Lion’s Head and Tobermory and is built on the collaborative teamwork of RNs, RPNs, a nurse practitioner, a social worker and administrative staff.
The team decided early on in the pandemic that it would mobilize itself to roll out and deliver a local COVID-19 vaccination initiative for Northern Bruce Peninsula residents.
With the help of staff, physicians and community volunteers, the team has held 101 vaccination clinics – both large and small – since March 2021. At some of their largest community clinics, they were vaccinating 500 people a day.
In December, as part of a push to provide booster doses as fast as possible, they vaccinated 2,700 people over a three-day period.
The team created a Facebook page, developed posters and handouts, sent out email blasts to local organizations and businesses to help spread the word and called patients individually to let them know about vaccine availability and clinic dates.
IMPORTANCE OF VACCINATION
Dr. Thomas said it was important for the team to vaccinate as many of their patients – most of whom are over age 55 – as early as possible.
“Everybody on the team feels the consequences if any part of the system is leaking. So if we’re not doing a great job in vaccine provision through primary care, it’s going to be the same doctors and a lot of the same nurses who will be in the emergency department to receive the very-ill people,” he said.
“It’s direct closed-loop feedback for us. Every percentage that our vaccine acceptance rate ticks up is lowering the probability of catastrophe at our tiny little hospital.”
Loughlean said Northern Bruce Peninsula has not been impacted by COVID-19 to the extent some feared in the early days of the pandemic.
To prepare for the worst – and knowing their tiny hospital in Lion’s Head can accommodate only four to six patients – the team worked with the Bluewater District School Board and Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula to set up a field hospital in the local school’s gymnasium. The temporary facility had beds and medical supplies at the ready and the team also worked with the Tobermory Hyperbaric Facility to source oxygen, if required.
Thankfully, none of that was needed.
Loughlean said she believes the high vaccination rates are at least part of the reason the municipality has fared so well during the pandemic.
“We vaccinated every possible person who wanted to be vaccinated,” she says.
“For a variety of reasons, some people are still considering getting their first shot. We want them to be able to come into a familiar and safe environment to get immunized, and help protect themselves and the vulnerable around them. We will continue to offer immunization appointments weekly in our clinic until we run out of people to vaccinate.”
Written by Denis Langlois
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