Submitted by Mason Health

Since December 2020, when the first COVID-19 vaccines became available, hundreds of Mason Health and Mason County Public Health employees and volunteers have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that the vaccines reach anyone who is eligible and willing to receive the shot. This perseverance and dedication has earned Mason Health and Mason County Public Health recognition as 2021 Health Care Champions from the Thurston County Chamber and Thurston-Mason County Medical Society. The awards ceremony was held Aug. 31, at the OIympia Country & Golf Club. COVID restrictions were in place.

Mason Health’s COVID vaccine team leaders Nicole Eddins, PharmD, Senior Director of Ancillary Services, and Terri Gushee, RN, Director of Population Health, accepted the award on Mason Health’s behalf, while David Windom, Director of Mason County Community Services, and Lydia Buchheit, Manager of Mason County Public Health, represented Mason County.

“I am honored, but I represent a lot of people,” Eddins said. “One of the biggest takeaways from what we’ve done comes down to the fact that it takes a village to take care of that village. There is no way anyone could do something like this singlehandedly.”

The Health Care Champions award is in its 15th year. The event was created to recognize the everyday heroic acts, steadfast dedication, extraordinary service and professionalism seen frequently in our community’s medical offices, clinics, hospitals, emergency services and related organizations of our community.

“This is a way to recognize professionals in our community’s largest industry,” says Thurston County Chamber President and CEO David Schaffert. “To honor those who already work so hard and have gone above and beyond the call of duty, particularly during the ongoing COVID-19 response.”

Mason Health has administered more than 25,000 COVID vaccines since December 2020. Since January, Mason Health has partnered with Mason County Public Health on mass vaccination events, starting with a drive-thru event at Mountainview Elementary School. Subsequently, county vaccination events have taken place in partnership with Shelton School District, the Ridge Motorsports Park and the Port of Shelton. Mason Health has also held more than two dozen smaller pop-up events at places such as the Mason County Senior Activities Center, Taylor Shellfish, Mason County Jail, local homeless shelters, nursing homes, prisons and more.

“Among others, we partnered with St. Edward’s Catholic Church and their Hispanic outreach coordinators,” Gushee said. “This collaboration was a great learning experience and led to a very successful turnout. Overall, partnerships between the District and other community organizations helped us recognize those people who faced systemic health and social inequities and tackle many health barriers that exist.”

Together with Shelton School District, Mason Health created a team of bilingual and trilingual partners to meet the language challenges. Connecting with employers from local organizations helped Mason Health reach agriculture workers, timber workers, school employees, law enforcement and utility workers.

“We quickly learned that bringing the vaccines out to the community is the only way to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Gushee said. “No one is safe from the virus until everyone is safe. It does take a community effort.”

This community effort would not have been possible without the leadership at Mason County Public Health, a division of Mason County Community Services. Windom and Buchheit’s teams learned to quickly pivot and adjust plans to meet the needs of the community.

“Our efforts went well when you consider we had to adjust, adjust, adjust,” Windom said. “We adjusted based on the different locations, we adjusted based on vaccine availability, we adjusted our timeline, everything. What worked well was the collaboration with our partners – Mason Health, the schools, the Port of Shelton and Peninsula Community Health Services in the north end of the county. We had so many volunteers and we had so much fun. We have an outstanding department and an outstanding crew that has been with us the whole time, including the Department of Emergency Management.”

The next steps for Mason Health are addressing vaccine hesitancy and planning for COVID-19 vaccine boosters. Eddins encourages patients to speak to their health care providers about the COVID-19 vaccine if they have any questions. Information about the COVID-19 vaccines and availability can be found on the Mason Health website.

Mason Health, Public Hospital District No. 1 of Mason County, is certified by Det Norske Veritas (DNV) and is a licensed and accredited acute care hospital with a level four emergency trauma designation. There are more than 100 physicians on staff in 19 specialties. For more information or to find a health care provider, visit the Mason Health website.

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