By Tim Horan


Along with the arrival of the vaccine for COVID-19, so arrived scammers.

“There are three things KDHE (Kansas Department of Health and Environment) talk about,” Harold Courtois, chief executive officer for Memorial Health System, told the board of directors at the regular meeting Tuesday.

“No one would ever be asked for money to secure a place in line, to receive a place in line, for a vaccine. Officials don’t do that,” he said. “State officials never ask for personal information by phone or online. That is really important.

“The vaccine is never solicited door-to-door,” he added. “Those are three things that never happen. If they are, they are scammers.

Memorial Health was given notice on Dec. 16 that it would receive Pfizer vaccine sometime the next day.

Those vaccines came with inherent limitations, Courtois reported.

The freezer to store the Pfizer vaccine donated by the Brown Memorial Foundation and Jeffcoat Foundation has been paid for but has not yet arrived.

As a result, once the vaccine left the freezer in Topeka, MHS had 120 hours to dilute and administer the vaccine shipment. That 120 hours included the transport time and each delivery van made multiple stops.

The vials could be stored for five days in the refrigerator but had to be out for at least 30 minutes to warm to room temperature prior to dilution. Once out to be warmed to room temp, it could not be returned to the refrigerator and had to be used. Once warmed and diluted, those doses had to be given within six hours. None could be saved for a later time.

Memorial Helath received 35 vials (five doses per vial) of vaccine. However, each vial contained 6-7 doses instead of 5.

“We ended up with what had been 175 doses became 223 doses which was really  great,” he said. “We were able to vaccinate a lot more people just because of the overage of those vials.”


Herd immunity

Courtois said that 37 percent of the staff received the vaccine, Another 18 percent of the staff were infected with COVID-19 thus 55 percent of staff either vaccinated or got the virus.

“So if you consider herd immunity 69 percent, we are getting really close to herd immunity in our system,” he said.

Booster shots were expected to arrive on Wednesday.

“We have been told that once the first vaccines come, we will be in a rotation to receive a shipment of vaccine, probably the Moderna brand, every 2 to 3 weeks. The Moderna vaccine is also a two shot series but can be stored here in the freezer for longer periods of time so it gives us flexibility in administering the vaccine,” Courtois reported. “The plan is to administer to any health system staff willing to take the vaccine then high risk patients through the clinic. Dickinson County Health Department is also receiving vaccines and developing a plan for essential staff in the community.”

Memorial Health will meet with the health department on how vaccinations will begin.

Walk-in clinic

In 2019 there were 2,558 that utilities the morning walk-in clinic at Heartland Health Clinic. Last year ended up with 1,482, down 57.97 percent.

“You are going to see two huge drops during the COVID crisis. People were afraid to come in,” Courtois said.

He said the morning walk in clinic was busy before the COVID pandemic hit in March with over 300 patients.

“Then we shut down walk-in,” he said. “The numbers never came back.”

The evening walk-in clinic from 4 to 6 p.m. averaged three per day in both November with 63 and December with 58.

“That does boost some of those numbers but we started that late,” he said.

“The numbers are significant,” he said. “Some days we have one but the days we have three, four, five, six it is really needed because people need to be able to get in here and see somebody for illnesses in the walk-in.”



Memorial Health officials stressed the importance of masks.

“Masks make a difference,” Courtois said.

Angie Smith, chief nurse, said that nurses at the hospital are treating COVID-19 patients without contracting the virus. There were six in Abilene Memorial Hospital on Tuesday.

“Those PPEs have worked,” she said. “

“That is a good testimony,” said board member Tony Geiger. “People are in the trenches with people that have it, they are taking precautions and they are not getting it.”

Courtois said that in the early stages of the pandemic, very few of the nurses and doctors in New York got sick because of the precautions.

“It just goes to speak for protective equipment, masks, handwashing and social distancing,” he said. “Early on I questioned that because that is my job to question if masks were necessary. Over time this is not a political issues. This is a disease that is going to kill us if we are not careful.”


COVID deaths

Board member Dr. Dennis Biggs asked about the classification of COVID related deaths.

“If a guy gets a gunshot wound and tests positive for COVID...?” Dr. William Short, chief medical officer, was asked.

“We have gotten direction from KDHE on how to fill out a death certificate if COVID is involved but no pressure,” Short said.

He was asked if there was any pressure to raise the COVID numbers.

“It’s an individual’s physician’s choice,” Short said.

“Even if they had cancer, if COVID was a contributing factor, it would count,” Courtois said.

If someone was run over by a tractor and had COVID, would that be a COVID related death?

“If someone was run over by a tractor, I wouldn’t list COVID,” Short said. “If someone was in an accident and tested for COVID, I would not list COVID,” Short said. “They (KDHE) would get the deaths directly from the death certificate.”

He was asked if there was a reason to list a death as COVID related death.

Short said he thought the physicians would get 65 cents extra for supplies in treating COVID patients.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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