As Texas shifts its focus to large community vaccination efforts, some frontline health care workers remain unprotected.
About 10% of the rural hospitals in Texas have yet to receive a single Covid-19 vaccine dose, according to a group representing rural hospitals in the state.
Of the 16 hospitals which have not been allocated a vaccine shipment, 15 have sought doses from neighboring providers or pharmacies to get their staff vaccinated, Don McBeath, director of government relations for the Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals (TORCH) told CNN.
“There’s been a very high level of frustration for a number of weeks with many of the rural hospitals in Texas, because they were watching the state move into the general public category, administering vaccine, yet we had so many rural hospitals that have not even been able to receive any for their frontline employees,” said McBeath.
Last week, 25 of the state’s 157 rural hospitals had yet to receive a vaccine shipment, according to McBeath. On Sunday, an update from the state on vaccine allocations revealed 16 rural hospitals were still not on the distribution list, including Golden Planes Community Hospital.
“We have not received one single dose,” said Don Bates, CEO of Golden Planes. Some of his employees have received a vaccine from their local United supermarket, which had some extra doses to share.
McBeath said that the surges of Covid-19 seen in Texas and across the nation are “as bad or worse” in rural areas, where small hospitals can’t afford to have staff out of commission because there are so many patients who need care.
If some of these hospitals have staff out sick or quarantining from Covid-19 exposure, “you don’t even have enough employees to run a 24-hour operation,” he said.
“That’s why we’ve plead to the state, over and over, to make the rural hospitals a priority — to figure out a way to make it work,” he added.
Hospitals must have an application approved by the Texas Department of State Health Services before they can receive and administer vaccines.
“There are still some hospitals working to complete their enrollment as a vaccine provider. We’ve been working diligently with TORCH and the facilities directly to help them complete that process so they can receive vaccine,” Chris Van Deusen, director of media relations for the Texas Department of State Health Services, told CNN. “Rural hospitals serve an important role in providing care in their communities, and we will allocate vaccine to them as they enroll.”
Some hospital CEOs say the enrollment process isn’t so simple.
Bates said he’s tried to submit the application for his hospital at least a dozen times. “When you’re on the computer with an application, and they request yet another revision, that kicks you into a loop of waiting 14 more business days,” he said.
Bates likened it to calling the fire department when your house is burning down and having them respond, “Well, how many buckets of water do you need?”
He said his application was approved in the last week, but the hospital has not been informed how many doses it will receive and when.
“If we’re approved, send me vaccine,” said Bates. “Let me get shots in arms.”
Nathan Staggs, CEO of Anson General Hospital, another hospital waiting on vaccines, said his application was approved Wednesday. He said nearly half of his staff have recently had coronavirus, and some others have received doses through local pharmacies.
“There was a lot of frustration for my staff — ‘Why can I go to a pharmacy in the grocery store in Abilene and get a vaccine, but I can’t get one at work?'” said Staggs.
Expanding access to vaccines
Around the country, the coronavirus vaccine rollout has been slower than federal officials initially projected. Just over 10 million people have received their first coronavirus shots and 29.3 million doses of vaccine have been distributed, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday. At the urging of federal officials, many states are opening up vaccines to additional priority groups.
The Texas Department of State Health Services said in a statement on its website that during the week of January 11, Texas will direct most Covid-19 vaccines received to large sites or hubs in the state to vaccinate more than 100,000 people.
Bates said those major hubs could be hours away for people living in rural communities. As vaccinations become available to the wider population, he said his employees are still waiting for their turn.
“What does that mean for us? Do we continue to wait?” he said.
Texas, like other states, is working on speeding the administration of vaccines. The health department is communicating regularly with hospital heads.
Bates said the message from the state has been clear: “Get more shots in arms.”
“Well, send me vaccines, and I’ll do it,” he said.