Vaccines for employees arrive at Penn Highlands tomorrow while facilities approach capacity

The first batch of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines will arrive at Penn Highlands facilities tomorrow

Andrew Kurtz

At a teleconference today, Andrew Kurtz, system director for retail pharmacy services and vaccination lead for Penn Highlands Healthcare, announced that 975 doses will be arriving at Penn Highlands DuBois. Two other facilities will also receive the vaccine. He said PHH is one of 87 healthcare facilities to receive the first shipment across the state.

Those employees who have direct and frequent contact with patients will be the first to receive the vaccine. They will get a booster 21 days later. That number totals about 240 employees and staff.

Dr. Shaun Sheehan stated that the best protection against COVID-19 will take place two weeks after the second dose, so he strongly encouraged people to continue the pandemic mitigation practices.

More doses are expected to arrive next week, including the Moderna vaccine, and more employees will be vaccinated.

When asked if PHH was requiring employees to get the vaccine, PHH Chief Operating Officer Mark Norman stated, “Because the safety of our patients and staff continues to be our priority, our leadership has stated to all employees that we strongly encourage employees to get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available…” Penn Highlands also “strongly encourages” employees to get the flu vaccine.

Dr. Sheehan stated that the PHH system is coming very close to reaching capacity. As of December 15, there were 97 COPVID-19 patients in the system, including three on ventilators and several others receiving oxygen assist, a 25% increase in the past week.

“Folks who don’t think it’s necessary to practice social distancing, avoid group gatherings, or wear a mask when they go out…we need to offer a very real reminder that daily emergencies still continue, daily traumas and medical emergencies…can happen at any moment and add stress to our hospitals,” he said and added, “ People need to think about…how they can make sure that everyone, even themselves, can get the care they might need in an emergency”

Dr. Shaun Sheehan

The trend, Dr. Sheehan said, is still upward, and he pointed out that hospitalizations lag behind new case numbers by one to two weeks.

“15% of all COVID-19 tests that have come through Penn Highlands to date have taken place just since last week,” he said. He added, “ Now is not the time to let our guard down, and we have to continue this, unfortunately, for a few more months.”

When asked about additional restrictions from Governor Wolf, Dr. Sheehan said that if there had been more compliance with Centers for Disease Control and PA Department of Health guidelines earlier, some of these new restrictions “would not have been necessary to implement.”

“I understand some of these rules seem draconian, they certainly affect people in terrible economic ways, but I believe this is the last tool the government has to try and mitigate the further spread of this virus. Let’s keep in mind that…this week two of our counties in our region are among the top ten highest infection rates in the entire country…per 100,000,” he noted. The counties were Blair and Cambria.

COO Norman  was asked about keeping schools open. While he said PHH has had a dialogue with area school officials during the pandemic, the decision about schools is up to the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the school district.

On December 16, the state reported 10,049 new cases with 36 new cases in Jefferson County and 86 in Clearfield County.

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