At vaccination clinic, volunteers describe ‘an incredibly rewarding experience’
Efficient clinic was designed with Olympic experience in mind
There are a half-dozen thick binders on the desk of the architect of Summit County’s vaccine clinic bearing titles like “Strategic National Stockpile Plan” and “Emergency Response Plan.”
Chris Crowley, Summit County’s public health emergency preparedness coordinator, looks up from the desk as a clinic volunteer holding a laptop walks by and asks, “Alright, who’s the computer expert?”
Crowley points the volunteer in the right direction and resumes explaining how, exactly, Summit County has been able to vaccinate so many of its citizens in a converted film studio.
The number of moving parts required to construct what is a de-facto doctor’s office for hundreds of people was on display on a recent afternoon, with staffers adjusting to challenges ranging from mundane to potentially significant, with the defunct laptop somewhere in between.
The county has administered thousands of doses since January, and as of Thursday, more than 70% of Summit County residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine against COVID-19, though many have come from sources outside the county.
The air is chilly inside Utah Film Studios, with large garage bay doors opening periodically to let in a new group of vehicles with occupants set for a vaccination. The space was transformed in January after previously serving as a carpentry shop for set builders.
Crowley said the answer to the operation’s efficiency was simple.
“I planned this like it was an Olympic Games,” he said. “And the Olympic Games are about moving lots of people from one place, have them watch the Games, and then they leave in a very, very succinct, efficient and enjoyable manner.”
Crowley is an experienced event planner, having overseen operations at Park City Mountain Resort when it served as a skiing and snowboarding venue during the 2002 Games.
But bringing the system to life requires a dedicated crew of volunteers more than 100 strong who, along with county employees, have staffed the site since it opened. Other counties, Crowley said, are paying staffers $30 an hour to work shifts at a vaccine clinic.
Bob Sertner is one such volunteer, a show-business executive who has worked at the Utah Film Studios as a television producer. Now, he finds himself greeting people who arrive to get a vaccine, many of them anxious and worried.
The first thing Sertner does is advise people to put their car in park to make sure it doesn’t roll away, something born of seeing a few close calls.
He said he started volunteering in February after hearing volunteers would be vaccinated, but even though that didn’t prove to be the case, he continued to sign up for shifts. And now his son Josh Batiste-Sertner is part of the crew after hearing from his parents how rewarding the experience has been.
Another long-term volunteer, Roger Goldman, likened volunteering at the clinic to something his parents’ generation might have experienced during World War II.
“It was a mobilization effort that called for a community to get together and rise up and try to help deal with it,” Goldman said. “So I felt like this was an opportunity for me to make that kind of contribution that I think is expected of a good community member.”
Goldman was seated next to a Bluetooth speaker he brings to his volunteer shifts on which he plays his “vaccination playlist,” which includes, among other punny titles, Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.”
He said he often introduces people to the clinic by saying it’s the happiest place in Park City.
It was far from certain that Utah Film Studios would become that place, and it wasn’t the first site officials anticipated using. Crowley showed hand-drawn schematics for a mass-vaccination site at Richardson Flat with triple the capacity of the film studios location, and said he’d done design work for sites at the Ecker Hill park-and-ride lot and the three local high schools.
Initially, officials thought they’d use the high schools, where there is ample distance for people to wait — lines of people 6 feet apart stretching down hallways toward the gymnasium, for example.
But it became clear that the vaccination campaign would last for a while and that it would interfere with school functions. That shifted the focus to finding a different site, and when officials approached the Crandall family, which owns the studio, about using the location, Crowley said they agreed “in less than a day.”
Crowley said he applied large-event planning principles to designing the system at Utah Film Studios, where six nursing stations are split between two lines of traffic, each station vaccinating an occupant in one car before they drive off and a new batch rolls in.
“We’re almost looking at a perfect one-to-one balance when cars enter and when cars leave, and that’s really where we want to be,” Crowley said.
It takes about 12 minutes from intake to vaccination and then 15 minutes in an observation area after the person receives a shot.
The clinic can comfortably vaccinate 600 people per day, officials said, or up to about 800 if necessary. With the success the clinic has had thus far, however, officials anticipate closing the entire operation at the end of May. Crowley said he anticipates state officials will route more vaccine doses to private providers like doctor’s offices, pharmacies and other locations easily accessible to the public.
“We’re already two months ahead of schedule,” Crowley said.
He anticipates some form of vaccination campaign will be in place at least until the fall.
Both Goldman and Sertner told stories of recently vaccinated people expressing overwhelming gratitude because they would shortly be able to see loved ones after months of forced separation.
“This is an incredibly rewarding experience because the people who are here to get their vaccines are so excited,” Goldman said. “They view it, appropriately, as a doorway to get to a more normal kind of life. And because they’re so happy, you’re happy.”
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The Summit County Council is poised to extend its order allowing school mask requirements at a meeting Monday. No school is close to the case-number threshold, according to state data.