- While a health department nurse was in quarantine, school nurses stepped up to inoculate first responders.
- School nurses continue to volunteer to help the community amid the COVID-19 vaccination effort.
By Jim Gaines
The first doses of vaccine against COVID-19 arrived in Ballard County in January, ready for distribution to 26 first responders, but the local health department had a problem.
Its only available nurse, Melissa Ballard, was in COVID-19 quarantine. Then, another member of the Ballard County Health Department’s three-person staff also was out on quarantine soon afterward.
But in stepped two nurses from Ballard County Schools: Payton DeWeese and Jayde Dodge. Ballard County was still on a hybrid schedule, with virtual classes one day a week, so on that day the nurses could alternate giving shots at the health department.
“It’s a big help,” said Ballard, the health department’s site manager. “We plan on utilizing them each week, because the administration there has been kind enough to allow them to do that.”
First up was Dodge, who administered five shots, finishing the vaccine doses available at the time. With a new shipment, it then was DeWeese’s turn.
“We also have done the healthcare workers,” Ballard said.
They moved on to vaccinating people age 70 and over, who lined up waiting. Kentucky’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan assigns first responders, anyone 70 or older and K-12 school personnel to phase 1B.
On Jan. 28, Dodge gave 25 shots to people age 70 and over. By then, Ballard had returned, and the two administered a total of 50 vaccinations that day. DeWeese gave another 35 shots to phase 1B members on Feb. 2.
“It was a really steady stream, and it was so sweet because those older people were so grateful,” Dodge said. “They were just so eager to see some light at the end of the tunnel, so their lives can start returning to normal soon.”
Dodge and DeWeese offer fine examples of “a servant’s heart,” and their work highlights the importance of community partnership and collaboration, said Angela McDonald, education nurse consultant in the Kentucky Department of Education’s Division of District Support.
“I am so proud of the dedicated school nurses in Ballard County who graciously volunteered to provide desperately needed services to their community while their local health department nurses were in quarantine,” she said. “School nurses across the state are assisting with the vaccination process as well as performing contact tracing for their schools and districts, many on their own time.
Ballard County Superintendent Casey Allen said he stays in touch with the Ballard County Health Department on COVID-19 quarantines and contact tracing. It probably was during one of those discussions that the department’s need for help in administering shots came up, he said. When that need became known, school officials were glad to assist.
“We are a community school,” Allen said. “We’re here to serve our community, and this is part of that.”
Ballard County, near the western tip of Kentucky, is home to about 8,000 people, including about 1,400 students.
Previously, DeWeese had aided the health department a few times in giving flu shots or administering tuberculosis skin tests, but the commitment to help with COVID-19 vaccinations was bigger, Dodge said.
“This was the first time we really committed to staying all day,” she said.
The school district’s own nurses vaccinated Ballard County teachers and staff at the schools, Ballard said.
As the health department continues vaccinating county residents age 70 and over, Ballard plans on having help from the school nurses in that effort too.
Dodge said the school nurses “are available anytime she needs us, as the rollout of vaccine allows.”
The school system’s nurses used to be employees of the Purchase District Health Department, of which the Ballard County Health Department is a subordinate branch. The school district hired them directly a few years ago, but their connection to the health department is still strong, Allen said.
“Our district has always worked really closely with our health department,” Allen said.
The health department is planning on offering a “mask clinic” in one of the schools, demonstrating types of masks and their proper use, she said. If enough vaccine is available, they may hold a vaccination event then, too, Ballard said.
The school system is “awesome for providing the nurses and volunteering their facility and some staff members to help us get this done,” Ballard said.
“Our drawback right now is getting enough vaccine. But if vaccine is sent out in, say, several hundred doses, then that’s the plan – to do it at the school, utilizing both school nurses and some staff to get that done.”