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Health Systems Playing Leading Role in New York State Coronavirus Vaccinations

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   April 30, 2021

WMCHealth shares the keys to success in the Hudson Valley's effort to vaccinate people as quickly as possible.

In New York State, health systems have played a pivotal role in coordinating the distribution and administration of coronavirus vaccines.

The coronavirus vaccination effort is one of the most ambitious public health campaigns in U.S. history. A primary goal of the effort is to achieve herd immunity, which would make the spread of coronavirus unlikely. Anthony Fauci, MD, President Biden's chief medical advisor, has said 70% to 85% of the U.S. population needs to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

New York State designed its vaccination efforts by dividing the state into 10 regions, and each of the regions was assigned a vaccination hub. For example, in the seven-county Hudson Valley region, Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth) is the administrator of the vaccination hub. In Long Island, Northwell Health is the administrator of the vaccination hub. In the Albany region, the hub administrator is Albany Medical Center.

The vaccination hubs are key players, says Josh Ratner, MPA, executive vice president and chief strategy officer at Valhalla, New York-based WMCHealth.

"Each hub was asked to put together a vaccination plan on how we would approach vaccine distribution and equity in our regions. After that plan was submitted, our primary purpose was to be the command and control as well as logistics coordinator for our regions. That includes a wide range of responsibilities except for making vaccine allocations—who gets how much vaccine is determined by the state," he says.

The Hudson Valley vaccination hub recently passed the 1.3 million mark for vaccine dose coordination, Ratner says. Vaccine dose coordination, which applies to first and second doses, includes the following activities:

  • If there is a provider who has too much vaccine and a provider who does not have enough vaccine, the vaccination hub redistributes the vaccine
     
  • Ensuring that nursing home staff and residents receive enough vaccines
     
  • Fielding hundreds of calls from providers who have had questions about eligibility criteria, documentation requirements, and scheduling based on New York State guidelines
     
  • Targeting Zip codes that fall below state averages for first-dose vaccinations—the vaccination hub can coordinate with provider partners to establish pop-up vaccination sites in particular Zip codes
     
  • Weekly and bi-weekly meetings with country health departments and county executives
     
  • When providers want to transport vaccine from one location to another, those requests are routed through the vaccination hub for approval

"At WMCHealth and the Hudson Valley hub, we monitor vaccine administration, and we ensure that there is regional planning, including redistribution of vaccine. That means we effectively make sure that no dose gets wasted and as many shots in arms happen as quickly as possible," Ratner says.

Promoting collaboration and health equity

WMCHealth has led the effort to form several groups to support the distribution of vaccine in the Hudson Valley region, including a provider workgroup, regional task force, and health equity task force.

The provider workgroup includes any organization that has been approved by the state Department of Health to be a vaccinator, whether they have received vaccine or not, Ratner says. "Up until recently, there were about 330 eligible locations where someone could be vaccinated. Whether they are a pharmacy, or a hospital, or a physician practice—we have a weekly meeting with representatives from those locations to touch base on what is going on. We collaborate with every provider who wants to be collaborated with."

The regional task force has more than 450 members, he says. "The regional task force was originally comprised of suggested groups such as community organizations, municipalities, social service organizations, and providers. Up until recently, the regional task force has met weekly to review data, get on-the-ground feedback, and discuss challenges and opportunities."

The health equity task force features more than 70 clinical experts and community stakeholders, including leaders of faith-based organizations and social service agencies. "The health equity task force is essential to ensure that we have fair and equitable distribution of vaccine across our region. The health equity task force makes sure that we are looking at health literacy, access issues, and vaccine hesitancy," Ratner says.

Effective communication has been essential in the collaboration efforts, he says. "The key to our success has been frequent and fully transparent communication with our region's providers. Over the past five months, we have been able to bring together groups that previously were not collaborating—certainly not on a weekly basis."

WMCHealth playing dual role

In addition to playing a leadership role in the Hudson Valley vaccination hub, WMCHealth is also administering vaccines.

"We are involved in the actual administration of the vaccine for our network, which has 10 hospitals in the Hudson Valley. So, we are not only responsible for the hub but also are a provider. We provide vaccine at each of our hospital locations. In addition, WMCHealth is the state's provider partner for all four of the state mass vaccination sites in the Hudson Valley. Our providers staff those sites," Ratner says.

So far, about 55% of the vaccine-eligible population in the Hudson Valley has received at least one dose, he says.

 

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

In New York, health systems are helping state officials to coordinate coronavirus vaccine distribution and to achieve health equity in vaccinations.

The Hudson Valley "vaccination hub," which is led by WMCHealth, recently passed the 1.3 million mark for vaccine dose coordination such as redistribution of vaccine.

WMCHealth has led the effort to form several groups to support the distribution of vaccine in the Hudson Valley region, including a provider workgroup, regional task force, and health equity task force.


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