Butler County’s jump in COVID-19 vaccines creates a problem: It needs more volunteers

Butler County has boosted its mass COVID-19 vaccine program at the county fairgrounds, but volunteers are running low and officials are hoping to recruit more.

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter asked her fellow commissioners this week to consider allowing county employees to volunteer at the mass vaccination clinic in Hamilton.

“It appears some of the volunteers working at the fairground are starting to burn out,” Carpenter said this week. “So a request has been made to us to allow some of county employees to work at the fairgrounds for maybe half a day, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, if you’d like to consider that perhaps they can use their vacation time or sick leave.”

Her fellow commissioners balked at asking county employees use their paid time off to help.

“I’m not in favor of not compensating them and making them use their vacation time,” Commissioner Don Dixon said. “I think if we’re going to do it you need to do it in an organized way that doesn’t cause anybody financial problems.”

Commissioner T.C. Rogers said “we need to pay for it” and added they could get into a staffing bind over the summer because of vacations.

Butler County General Health District Commissioner Jennifer Bailer told the Journal-News it takes about 75 people daily to run the clinics, and they have been inoculating 1,800 to 2,000 people per clinic. The county clinics are run on Wednesdays and Fridays and the Hamilton Health Department holds drive-thru clinics on Thursdays at the fairgrounds. The Middletown Health Department runs clinics throughout the city.

“People’s interest is waning a little bit, so we need to get some new folks in to volunteer with us,” Bailer said. “We’ve have great success at getting people who want to vaccinate and help with getting the needles into the arms and the support that is directly related to that. But it takes a lot more than that.”

She said they need non-medical volunteers to help with registration, checking paperwork, giving people information people they enter the vaccination barn and side-effect monitoring for the required 15-minute wait after the shot.

Interested volunteers need to register at: www.ohioresponds.odh.ohio.gov. They can choose Butler County directly through the website.

“It provides them with a little bit of liability insurance for being onsite at the fairgrounds and just helps us kind of organize our volunteers,” Bailer said. “Then we send out alerts after people sign up with dates and times when we need volunteers.”

The Butler County Emergency Management Agency handles logistics like setting up, providing heaters in the winter, traffic control and other incident management functions. The commissioners have given EMA $350,000 since the vaccinations began, and Director Matt Haverkos said the EMA is spending about $10,000 per week paying police and fire departments from across the county to help with administering vaccines, traffic control and other duties. He said the money should last through the end of May.

Haverkos told the Journal-News that when the county began its mass vaccination clinic, it was administering about 500 shots per week, and now that has increased to about 6,000 weekly. The Ohio Department of Health website showed that 116,941 Butler County residents have received at least a first shot, which is 30.5% of the population.

The county received $18.7 million in federal CARES Act coronavirus relief funding last year. Another $74.3 million may be flowing through county coffers by mid-May, from the federal American Rescue Plan. That number is subject to change because Ohio townships were left out of the funding formula and officials are working to determine how to address that.

The commissioners approved seeking proposals for a $6 million testing/vaccine program in December before vaccinations were available. They received five proposals to provide free widespread testing/immunization with “strike team” capability for hot spots. County Administrator Judi Boyko began negotiations with the top prospect, but the commissioners shelved the plan because the vaccine wasn’t available.

The commissioners mentioned tapping that money to help with Bailer’s volunteer problem. Boyko said that plan was specifically tailored to healthcare and would not cover the type of workers Bailer needs. The commissioners tasked her with trying to find a solution to the problem.

Dixon told the Journal-News the $6 million plan will remain shelved for now.

“We’re not pulling the trigger on the program we have on a shelf,” Dixon said. “It’s not needed yet.”

How to help:

Volunteers interested in helping with the Butler County mass vaccination effort should register at: www.ohioresponds.odh.ohio.gov

1. Click ‘Register NOW’

2. Click Add Organization and expand the field “01-Medical Reserve Corps Organizations”

3. Select Butler County – MRC

Note: Non-medical staff are not required to complete training prior to volunteering.

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