Old firehouse becoming COVID-19 vaccine site as options grow in Butler County

The soon-to-be-abandoned Liberty Township fire station on Yankee Road will transform into a coronavirus vaccine site under a plan recently approved by township trustees. The trustees agreed to  temporarily lease the station - at no cost - to UC Health and West Chester Hospital for its expanding efforts to reach more in the community with vaccine injections. (NICK GRAHAM\ Journal-News)
The soon-to-be-abandoned Liberty Township fire station on Yankee Road will transform into a coronavirus vaccine site under a plan recently approved by township trustees. The trustees agreed to temporarily lease the station - at no cost - to UC Health and West Chester Hospital for its expanding efforts to reach more in the community with vaccine injections. (NICK GRAHAM\ Journal-News)

The first-ever transformation of a Butler County fire station into a coronavirus vaccine site will take place in Liberty Twp., and it’s the latest example of local officials using smaller, community sites to reach more people with the potentially lifesaving drugs.

A soon-to-be-abandoned firehouse will be converted to a drive-thru coronavirus inoculation site in the coming weeks after the recent approval of the plan by Liberty Twp. trustees.

The unusual agreement between the township and UC Health/West Chester Hospital reflects county and local health officials increasing efforts to bring vaccines to where people are, rather than have them travel far and enter buildings to get the injections.

“We are working to provide as many different avenues for people to get vaccinated as possible,” said Dr. Dustin Calhoun, who is medical director for emergency management for UC Health.

“Everybody has different limitations as to their work schedules, their transportation options … so we are trying to establish a site there,” Calhoun said of the Yankee Road fire station, which starting Friday will begin to the move to a new, larger station on Princeton Road.

Recent weeks have seen a scramble of activity locally, all designed to ease the access for Butler County residents, especially the elderly and others less mobile, seeking the vaccine injections.

Thousands have gone through in cars to receive their shots at the county fairgrounds site in Hamilton. And the Butler County Regional Transit Authority and the city of Oxford have partnered to help senior citizens who live within the Talawanda School District receive their COVID-19 vaccination at the Butler County Fairgrounds, where the Butler County General Health District is providing vaccine shots. They can get those shots while on the buses.

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County health officials are also launching “strike teams” made up of registered nurses deployed into the community.

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“On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they’re going directly to people who would have a hard time getting to the fairgrounds or who just have other kinds of challenges,” said County Health Commissioner Jennifer Bailer.

This outreach program targets vulnerable populations that may face disparities associated with access to receiving the vaccine, she said. Smaller vaccination events occur in churches, community centers and other partner organizations within the county that are located in high to moderately high social vulnerability opportunities.

So far in Butler County, according to the latest data released Tuesday from the Ohio Health Department, 82,463 residents – or 21.5 percent of the population - have received a coronavirus vaccine injection, or one of the first of two shots required.

Caroline McKinney, spokeswoman for Liberty Twp., said local officials were eager to help speed and ease the distribution of vaccines.

“It’s great that our newly vacated fire station can be a temporary vaccine site and appreciate the team at West Chester Hospital for their forward-thinking leadership. Working in collaboration for the greater health of the Liberty/West Chester area is critical during times like these,” said McKinney.

Liberty Twp. Fire Chief Ethan Klussman said the giant garage bay doors on both sides of the old station are ideal for an all-weather, socially distanced drive-thru vaccination site.

“If all goes well, we plan to move out of the old station on Friday and turn that station over to them (West Chester Hospital) on Monday,” said Klussman.

“You can drive right through it (station garage) so even in inclement weather our elderly and our less mobile folks don’t have to get out of their vehicles and there is less exposure … and it will be much quicker and more convenient,” he said.

Staff Writer Michael D. Pitman contributed to this story

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