Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System
GCVHCS Celebrates 20,000th Person Vaccinated
BILOXI, Miss. – The Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System (GCVHCS) celebrated vaccinating its 20,000th person April 1 at the Biloxi Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center.
GCVHCS vaccination procedures began in late December 2020, with the 20,000th vaccination - a Moderna injection administered by GCVHCS registered nurse (RN) Chanin Elrick - received by Vietnam Veteran Joseph Howe, a 71-year-old Gulfport, Mississippi, resident celebrating his birthday this week.
“Being able to ensure our Veterans can receive this vaccine is important to us,” Elrick said. “Protecting our nation’s heroes is why we’re here, and I’m honored to be part of this effort.”
Biloxi, Mississippi, Chief Administrative Officer and retired U.S. Marine Mike Leonard, along with GCVHCS Director Bryan C. Matthews, attended Howe’s vaccination to mark the event, something Matthews said is indicative of the continued efforts GCVHCS takes to protect Veterans and underscores the close-knit bond the organization shares with the community.
“So many Biloxi VA Medical Center employees live in this area, and our dedication to this community is something we always embrace,” Matthews said. “Having the City of Biloxi here to witness the efforts we’re continuing to make in combatting this ongoing global health crisis shows the sense of community we share with our host city.”
Matthews said that Elrick, along with the hundreds of GCVHCS employees involved in the local distribution and administration of VA COVID-19 vaccinations, have administered vaccinations through regularly scheduled appointments, walk-ins, and Saturday clinics at the organization’s Biloxi; Mobile, Alabama; and Pensacola, Eglin and Panama City Beach, Florida, locations. He added that the ongoing success of the organization’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts is the result of the health care system’s teamwork, with employees from different areas – individuals in the organization’s pharmacies, supply, medical administration, and clinicians – working in tandem to ensure GCVHCS Veterans interested in receiving a COVID-19 vaccination have one available.
“The teamwork involved in getting that vaccine into the arm of our Veteran is nothing short of outstanding,” he said. “From the employees receiving the vaccine and transporting it, to the medical administrative employees scheduling the thousands of appointments to the housekeeping staff which ensures clean areas for our clinicians to do their job is a testament to the GCVHCS’ willingness to continue providing top-notch care for our Veterans.”
Matthews added that GCVHCS pharmacy employees continue receiving doses of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-approved COVID-19 vaccines, ensuring these controlled substances are correctly stored, handled appropriately, and disseminated to the organization’s community-based outpatient clinics (CBOCs).
“Our pharmacy employees have been instrumental in making sure we get these vaccinations into arms,” Matthews said. “These vaccines have to be carefully handled and stored, and the professionals in our pharmacy have been able to ensure that we’re not wasting any of the vaccines we’ve received.”
Matthews said the GCVHCS receives allotted COVID-19 vaccinations, controlled substances that are accepted by organization pharmacy employees. These are then stored in refrigeration units at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)-recommended temperatures until distribution to GCVHCS CBOCs. Matthews said GCVHCS purchased refrigeration units to maintain each vaccine’s viability and added that designated pharmacy personnel then transport the vaccines in portable refrigeration units in vehicles to the organization’s CBOCs.
“Everywhere we store these vaccines must have a primary and backup system in place, including during transport,” said Christi Seely, the GCVHCS inpatient pharmacy supervisor. “These all require 24/7 temperature monitoring with backup system monitoring and audible alarms. We even have a backup vehicle in case we get on the road and break down so we can call for rescue.”
Matthews added that GCVHCS pharmacy employees – in addition to maintaining ongoing medications to our Veterans – have been instrumental in the organization’s capability of providing COVID-19 vaccinations to those interested.
“This herculean effort involves significant employee dedication and perseverance,” he said. “Our pharmacy employees have put forth significant effort in making sure the vaccines we receive are handled appropriately so that we can do what we do best – continue providing top-notch care to the Veterans we’re here to serve. The effort it takes to fill over 31,000 syringes for first and second doses given is remarkable.”
The GCVHCS has fully implemented the Strengthening and Amplifying Vaccination Efforts to Locally Immunize all Veterans and Every Spouse (SAVE LIVES) Act which now allows us to provide COVID-19 vaccinations by appointment and via walk-in Monday through Friday from 8 am to 4:30 pm to Veterans who are not enrolled in VA health care, along with spouses and caregivers and Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA) beneficiaries.
“We’re committed to offering all Gulf Coast-area Veterans, spouses, and caregivers an opportunity to be vaccinated against COVID-19,” said GCVHCS Associate Director for Patient Care Services and Nurse Executive Dr. Christopher Saslo. “COVID-19 is a serious health risk, and Veterans should take all precautions against the spread of this contagious disease, including physical distancing, avoiding large gatherings, frequently washing one’s hands, and observing face-covering protocols.”
Veterans can call 1-800-296-8872 (option 2 then option 1) to schedule a COVID-19 vaccination appointment or self-schedule this type of appointment using the GCVHCS’ self-scheduling tool at https://bit.ly/37XZe0u. The self-scheduling tool can only be used to schedule a first dose appointment since a second dose appointment is scheduled upon checking in. Only Veterans with a DS Logon, MHV, or ID.me account can self-schedule.
The Biloxi VA Medical Center and the Mobile, Pensacola, Eglin, and Panama City VA Clinics are all part of the Gulf Coast Veterans Healthcare System (GCVHCS) which is headquartered in Biloxi, Mississippi, and provide a variety of medical outpatient services to more than 77,000 Veterans.