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Cary front line staff discuss COVID vaccine

CARIBOU, Maine — The front line staff at Cary Medical Center — many now inoculated against the COVID-19 virus — say they decided to receive the vaccine in an effort to protect their families and community.

Bill Flagg, director of Community Relations and Development, said both Cary Medical Center and Pines Health Services have been closely following Maine CDC guidelines in administering vaccines. 

Pines is contacting established primary care patients age 70 and older, and the scheduling is based on the number of vaccines Cary and Pines receive each week.

“This method has prevented long lines and having to reschedule patients if the appropriate number of vaccines does not arrive in time,” Flagg said. “Those who have received the vaccine have been very appreciative of this process, which has been done most efficiently so that not a single dose of vaccine has been wasted.”

He said that while the limited supply of COVID vaccines in Maine has been frustrating for everyone, the hospital plans to establish an online registration option once the vaccine supply is plentiful and consistent. 

“We are committed to vaccinating everyone who desires to be vaccinated over time, and we strongly encourage individuals to get the vaccine when their time comes,” he said.

The first person at Cary to receive the vaccine was Cassie Hemphill of the Environmental Services Department. She said wanted to protect her family and everyone else she’s in contact with. She said the process was scheduled well, and that she felt that if anything did go wrong the other staff would be ready and attentive.

“I’m less worried about being in public places, but I am still being cautious,”  she said.

Nancy Bergin, director of Volunteer Services and Seniority in addition to being a front line screener and vaccine recorder, said that even though she’s received the vaccine, she has no plans to change any aspect of her life amid the pandemic.

“I will continue wearing a mask, social distancing and certainly hand washing/gelling,” she said.

Bergin said she felt fortunate to have a position working in the hospital, as it allowed her to receive the vaccine on the second day it became available.

“I want to do anything I can to keep my family, coworkers and my community healthy; I was most grateful to receive the vaccine so quickly. I feel it is the responsible thing to do,” Bergin said.

Cary Medical Center Outpatient Nurse Manager Chelsey Szabo said she felt grateful to be able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine during the first phase of rollout, and that she did so to help work towards herd immunity within the local community. (Courtesy of Cary Medical Center)

Outpatient Nurse Manager Chelsey Szabo, BSN, RN, CCEMT-P, also said she felt grateful to be able to receive the vaccine during the first phase of the rollout.

“Knowing I was able to do my part in working toward ‘herd immunity’ in our community has been reassuring, but hasn’t decreased the respect I have for how dangerous this virus still is,” Szabo said. 

She said that even though her chances of becoming infected have dropped significantly, she could still potentially carry the virus home to unvaccinated family members.

And though she was vaccinated, Szabo continues to take the same precautions as before, as the emergency department is still a high-risk environment. And outside work, she said she still avoids large gatherings, always wears a mask in public and constantly washes her hands.

“I’m still choosing not to travel unnecessarily and hoping to see the numbers drop over the next several weeks and months before taking my family for that much-needed vacation,” Szabo said.

She commended Chief Medical Officer Dr. Regen Gallagher and the Cary team for making vaccination an easy process for the staff. She said that in the weeks leading up to the vaccine’s arrival, hospital management asked a simple yes or no question to staff if they would like to receive the Moderna vaccine.

“There was no pressure and lots of supportive conversation from leadership and physicians to anyone with questions or concerns,” she said. “Once the vaccine arrived, I think it went very smoothly.”

When she received the vaccine on Christmas Eve, she said it was a great way to end a rough year.

“This was one of the more exciting and positive weeks we had experienced at work in the very long year of 2020,” she said. “The pride and excitement was palpable in the Chan Center the day I received my vaccine.”

Jen Plante, BSN, RNC-OB, Maternal Child Primary Charge at Cary, said she did not hesitate to get vaccinated.

“I am a big believer in collective health and compassion, and understand that there will always be risk with any vaccine, just as there is risk with any disease. Collective health means that I am not only interested in the health of myself and my family, but also the well-being of all members of my community, state, county and world. What affects me also impacts everyone around me,” she said.

And like her colleagues, Plante said that she will continue to follow CDC guidelines until it is clear that herd immunity is reached.

“Due to my responsibilities as a nurse and human being, I have avoided travel and gatherings with anyone outside of my household. I am patient and understand that in time, after following these guidelines, we will all be able to resume daily life without restrictions,” Plante said.

Plante has received both doses, and said the process was efficient and easy.

“The excitement of staff and community members is contagious,” she said.

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