In early 2020, COVID-19 preparation became a primary focus at Southeast
Georgia Health System as departments representing all aspects of hospital
operations and patient care began working together to develop plans to
safely care for COVID-19 patients, as well as keep non-COVID-19 patients
and team members from being exposed to the virus. After months of caring
for extremely ill patients, the exhausted health care workers were finally
able to experience a glimmer of hope that the deadly pandemic would soon
end with the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines. With vaccines in hand, the
next step was to determine the best way get people vaccinated.
“We had to quickly mobilize a clinic that didn’t exist,”
recalls Director of
Physician Practices, Adam Brown, CMPE. Initially, that job fell to Sharon Zawislak, the Health
System’s director of Human Resources. With vaccines in short supply,
federal and local governments prioritized health care workers for vaccination.
Zawislak coordinated an internal Vaccine Clinic for the Health System
to ensure all team members had the opportunity to get vaccinated. When
Governor Kemp extended COVID-19 vaccinations to the public, the Health
System leadership team met to strategize on how best to inoculate eligible
individuals as quickly as possible. Brown joined Zawislak to transform
the Vaccine Clinic for public distribution.
“The operational hours were intense, but getting the clinic up and
running in the first place was even more difficult,” says Zawislak.
“It takes about 16-20 team members to run the clinic each day. Thankfully
over 50 team members signed up to help in the clinics, in addition to
their regular workload.”
Tabitha Hill, LPN, remembers what it was like in the early days of the
COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic at Southeast Georgia Health System. “Shifts
began at 6:30 a.m. One of us would get the vaccines from the hospital
pharmacy, and bring them to the clinic. We had to ensure that we had enough
vaccines for everyone scheduled each day, had to store the vaccines properly,
and use them within two hours. We had to manage all that and run the clinic
from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., six days a week.” Hill is a clinical team
Southeast Georgia Physician Associates–Endocrinology & Diabetes, and one of the vaccine clinic nurses.
An Overwhelming Task
When you embark on a seemingly complex issue with a simplistic objective,
you can solve it. The goal was to get shots in arms.
“Initially, the planning for such a large clinic was overwhelming.
We knew this was something we had to do for our community, so we jumped
in and began planning. It proved to be quite the task,” Zawislak
says. Besides supply shortages, Zawislak says finding a space large enough
to accommodate a massive public vaccination effort was one of the biggest
challenges the team faced.
Brown echoes those thoughts. “Strategizing the set up was an overwhelming
process. There was more demand than supply. People were knocking on our
doors, desperate for the COVID-19 vaccine.” By leaning in, Brown
says that he and his team members focused on a common goal. “Do
the most good in the shortest amount of time.”
According to Angelia Ricker, R.N., Team Member Health, Health System leaders
made the task easier. “They did an exceptional job,” she explains.
Much of the credit, according to Zawislak and Brown, goes to the man at
the top. “Our leadership team was fantastic to work with. Our President
and CEO Mike Scherneck led the charge to help end this pandemic by making
sure everyone wanting to be vaccinated was able to do so as quickly as
possible.” Brown agrees, describing Scherneck as the “driving
force” behind the effort and providing the team with everything
they needed to keep the clinic running smoothly. This level of support
fostered the team’s morale as they labored long hours and weekends.
“Multiple employees have worked every weekend since the clinic opened,”
Shortly after vaccinating health care workers, the team started vaccinating
the Health System’s most vulnerable patients. “We started
with pulmonology, cardiac and oncology patients,” Brown explains.
As supplies replenished and state requirements eased, the team administered
more shots. “We have given over 36,700 vaccinations since opening
to the public in January 2021,” says Brown.
Hill and Ricker recall two memorable patient interactions. “A man’s
102nd birthday was coming up. He wanted to get vaccinated and wanted everyone
in his family vaccinated so they could celebrate with him,” Hill
says. Ricker recounts another special moment. “Everyone has been
extremely appreciative, but I would say that a 104-year-old patient stands
out the most. She was so grateful.”
As if juggling supply and demand weren’t enough, the March winter
storm in Texas threw a weather wrench in clinic operations. “We
had timed everything perfectly to have enough supplies, then the storm
delayed vaccine shipments. We spent a lot of sleepless nights, trying
to figure out a solution. We ended up rescheduling 700 people and giving
1,300 vaccinations in one day to make up for that gap,” Brown says.
Operational headaches and sleep deprivation aside, the Vaccine Clinic heroes
appreciate the role they played in this historic effort. Twenty years
from now, what stories will they tell their grandchildren? “I would
tell them our team came together to help our community get vaccinated,
and as a result our Health System played an important role in ending this
pandemic. I would also tell them what an honor it was to work with such
a great team and organization,” Zawislak says.
From Brown’s perspective, “Rarely do you experience patient
interactions where people are so grateful. The clinic was the most rewarding
and impactful thing I’ve ever been involved with. We owe a debt
of gratitude to every single person who helped with this effort because
they went above and beyond the call of duty.”
As nurses battling the pandemic one COVID-19 shot at a time, Hill and Ricker
encourage the public to get vaccinated. “The sooner everyone is
vaccinated, the sooner we can return to a somewhat normal life,”
For their role in combating a historic health crisis, these four individuals,
and all those who helped make the Vaccine Clinics happen, are truly frontline heroes.
Southeast Georgia Health System is offering COVID-19 vaccines for all individuals
age 16 and older. Appointments are preferred, but walk-ins are accepted.
To learn more or to make an appointment, visit