By Steven B. Brooks
When David Merritt walked out of Bernard Hurst American Legion Post 77 in Brookville, Ind., on April 27, he had a smile on his face, as did most who exited the post that day following their second COVID-19 vaccine shot.
Since March 30, Post 77 has been hosting weekly vaccination clinics, which will wrap up May 4. Around 700 area residents – ranging from high-school age to senior citizens – will have received both vaccination shots by the end of the effort, including a relieved Merritt.
“This feels great. It almost feels like you get your freedom back a little bit,” said the 37-year-old Merritt, a Brookville resident. “The reason I got the shot wasn’t for me. It was for everybody else so I wasn’t passing (COVID-19) around. I’m a pretty healthy guy. So this was invaluable. It’s close by. Convenient.”
The vaccine clinic was a collaboration between Richmond, Ind.-based Reid Health, the Franklin County Health Department and Post 77.
Craig Towns, a Reid Health Performance Improvement Specialist who was onsite April 27 for the clinic, said Post 77’s facility was the idea set-up for a vaccine clinic.
“(Franklin County Health Board member) Jennifer Proffit showed us a couple of sites. We came to (Post 77) and it just felt like a great fit,” Towns said. “We walked in the door. The set-up was good. We were able to navigate through the facility. There was a good egress in and egress back out of the facility. So over the last five weeks we’ve been able to vaccinate almost 700 people with their first dose and also their second dose. So things are coming along well.”
Ten-year American Auxiliary Unit 77 President Angie Nobbe, who also serves as the post’s events manager, was contacted about Reid Health using the post and has been at every clinic since March 30. She worked out the logistics of getting the clinics set up, as well as picking the dates.
When approached by Nobbe about hosting the clinic, Post 77 Commander Richard Bodnar said, “We were more than willing to be a part of it. We’re in the community to provide whatever we can. This was ideal for us. I feel like this helps the community and its health.”
Via email, Profitt praised Post 77 for hosting the clinic. “Post 77 has been a tremendous and generous partner in collaboration with Reid Health in getting the vaccine out to our community,” she said. “The respect and pride in our Legionnaires with all their hard work and gracious hospitality has been unparalleled. Their story of support and work in helping making this vaccine clinic happen, well, it's inspiring.”
Towns said partnerships like this one with Post 77 are critical in Reid Health’s vaccination efforts. “Honestly, it’s invaluable for them to be able to step up and offer their facility essentially at no charge has been amazing for the community,” he said. “They have been open-arms welcoming to Reid Health coming in and helping out in Franklin County. People in the county have appreciated it. They weren’t sure where their next shot was going to come from.”
Towns called the COVID-19 vaccine campaign “a very unique situation. We actually are in an environment where people aren’t sick coming to see us. They’re actually here … to make this whole situation with the pandemic better. People are excited to be here. They’re excited that there’s an opportunity to get the vaccine. And honestly, they walk out the door with a smile on their face.”
Watching people come out of the post after receiving their shot “has been amazing,” Nobbe said. “You just see the people’s relief as they’re coming and going. We’ve gotten calls from all different ages … asking how can I get an appointment. It’s just worked out great.”
Nobbe said initially she wasn’t going to get the vaccine. “But when the clinic came here, I decided ‘you know, why not? And I’m glad I did it. I got my second one (April 20), and my husband gets his second one today.”
Bodnar said that while members of Post 77’s American Legion Family know the pandemic isn’t over, they feel they’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Being able to host the vaccine clinic helped with that optimism.
“I think all of us feel pride in being able to assist,” Bodnar said. “It’s been a terrible last year with the pandemic, so we’re pleased that we can do something to help alleviate that. We have this pride in being able to do this.”
Across the nation, American Legion posts have opened up their facilities to health-care providers for COVID-19 vaccination clinics, including Veterans Memorial Post 347 in Florida and at American Legion Post 790 in California. The following are just a few more examples of posts assisting vaccination efforts.
On April 28, American Legion Post 5 in Emporia hosted a walk-up vaccination clinic for veterans, spouses and caregivers. Vaccinations were dispensed via the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The post will host a second round of vaccines in May.
In Laughlin, the Veterans Affairs Southern Nevada Healthcare System used Richard Springston American Legion Post 60 for a vaccine clinic April 10 and April 17. The vaccines were given to 250 veterans enrolled in the VA health-care system.
Sag Harbor Village opened an ongoing vaccination clinic in late March at Chelberg & Battle American Legion Post 388. Around 100 Moderna vaccines are being distributed on Tuesdays and/or Wednesdays.
In Jacksonville, StarMed Healthcare hosted COVID-19 vaccine clinics April 28-29 at American Legion Burton-Cowell Post 265.
The Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center hosted a vaccine clinic at Towanda American Legion Post 42 in April 15. The single-dose Janssen vaccine was available to veterans, caregivers and spouses.
MedStar set up a first-dose vaccination site April 22 at American Legion Post 655 in Haltom City.