Diane Meyer “didn’t feel a thing” as she rolled up her sleeve and received her coronavirus shot in the makeshift “vaccination station” Thursday at Cornerstone Church in Litchfield.
In fact, the Eden Valley resident teased, she had to confirm with her nurse that she actually received her dose because it was so painless.
“It was easy,” Meyer said as she and her husband, who also received his vaccination, headed to observation area. “And fast.”
That was just the kind of experience health professionals were aiming for when they prepared for the vaccination clinic late the previous week.
But what appeared a smooth-running event Wednesday through Friday last week, took the kind of crisis management for which Meeker County health-care workers have been planning for several months.
“The amount of work behind the scenes that had to be done to get this set up … it was incredible,” Holmgren said. “We needed it to run well.”
Rollout of the vaccination has faced communication and distribution challenges, much of it due to limited availability of the drug. In Minnesota, the Department of Health reports that 554,102 Minnesotans — 9.8 percent of the state’s total population — have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccination. Meeker County’s vaccine distribution is slightly better than the statewide total, with 2,558 residents, or 11 percent of the county’s 2019 population, having received at least one dose, but far behind the nearly 32 percent vaccine rate in northeastern Minnesota’s Cook County.
So when the state Department of Health called on a Friday afternoon, Jan. 29, and asked if the county could handle 700 doses, Meeker Memorial Hospital & Clinics administration were determined to find a way to get the vaccine to the county’s most at-risk population.
In a seven-hour period Sunday, two days after the offer, MMHC staff members made appointments for 525 vaccinations.
“I get goosebumps, because they were incredible,” clinic administrator Jayne Holmgren said of the team of 10 receptionists who worked off a call list created from MMHC’s 75-and-older client lists. “They gave up their Sunday family time … because they know how important it is.”
When notice was posted on the Department of Health website Monday that MMHC received 700 doses for a vaccination clinic, they began receiving calls from people outside the county, and once Meeker Memorial staff were satisfied they had done everything possible to schedule the 75-and-old group, they began booking others in the 65-and-older cohort to fill out all 700 slots.
MMHC learned it would receive the Moderna vaccine, which must be stored at super-cold temperatures and given to patients within 72 hours of leaving the super-cold storage. And once a vial is opened, all 10 doses in it must be used within six hours. It meant precise planning to ensure every one of the 700 doses could be given in the small window of time.
“There’s a lot of calculations that go into this,” Holmgren said. “We have to be very strategic in our planning and scheduling of the patients, because we have committed to not lose any doses. We don’t want to waste anything..”
By Wednesday afternoon, when the vaccination clinic opened at Cornerstone Church, staff and volunteers were ready to make it work — from check-in station to post-vaccination “waiting room” in the church’s worship area. And, actually, the system went beyond those steps, to a welcoming committee that used golf carts to pick up clinic-goers at their cars as they arrived and deliver them back after they received their vaccines.
“I think they (patients) are very much amazed that we don’t have lines,” Holmgren said as she and Ann Lien, chief quality officer and incident commander for Meeker Memorial Hospital, watched people arrive for the clinic Thursday. “We wanted to be very conscious of the age population we’re serving, to not make them wait (and) not having them stand for long periods.”
Ensuring a smooth-running clinic that used every drop of vaccine was important, Lien said, because future distributions would likely hinge on success of last week’s clinic.
“If you’re not meeting these guidelines or expectations that the state sets, (it) determines what you will get the next time,” Holmgren said.
As they watched Thursday, Holmgren and Lien expressed confidence that the work done by the Meeker County Hospital and Clinics team would ensure future clinics – in addition to the follow-up clinic and second dose in four weeks for those who received vaccines last week.
As vaccination availability increases, they want to be ready. It’s all part of fighting the virus that was first confirmed in the United States in January last year and has infected more than 27 million people, killing more than 463,000.
“They’ve said this before, and it is so true,” Holmgren said. “This is not a sprint. This is a marathon. We have been on a marathon run for the last year. And now we will continue that marathon with the vaccine.
“Patients just have to be patient,” she added. “We will get more vaccine, and we’re going to come to their needs. We’re here.”
It might look on paper like nothing changed, but the relationship between the city of Litchfield and Litchfield Golf Club Inc. seems to have taken a giant leap forward.
While unanimously approving a motion to disband its golf club transition committee and to leave a 2013 contract between the city and GCI in place, the City Council during its Feb. 1 meeting also approved creation of a committee to help oversee operations at the municipal golf course.
The committee, proposed by Golf Club Inc., will include two City Council representatives — John Carlson and Betty Allen were named Feb. 1 — and two members of the nonprofit GCI board of directors, President Carl Minton and Peter Kormanik. As suggested by GCI, the committee would “be responsible for a range of issues that come up in relation to memberships, promotions, course management, course improvement, fees, tournaments, course closings, expenses and other issues relating to the golf course.”
The resolution leaves in place Golf Club Inc.’s oversight of the clubhouse, including the restaurant and pro shop, as spelled out in the 2013 agreement, at least for the 2021 season.
Carlson proposed the resolution to leave the current agreement in place after a lengthy discussion that covered much of the same ground from the previous two City Council meetings.
“You guys have done a lot of work,” Carlson said. “Historically, for me, when things are muddy a little bit, (when) my basketball team didn’t’ know what to do, we went to the basics.
“We don’t know if this summer is going to be a normal summer,” Carlson added. “The gentlemen representing Golf Club Inc. are businessmen. Two of the three (Minton and Kormanik) have run restaurants. That’s their forte. Why don’t we go back to the old agreement for this season and hope like heck they can find a great restaurant (manager) for the city?”
For the city to attempt to reach a separation agreement with GCI, while also preparing for the coming golf season, looking for a new restaurant tenant and managing the pro shop and possible summer tournaments did not seem like a good idea with a new season rapidly approaching.
“I think the fall is when you need to be doing all this stuff,” said Carlson, a former teacher who also has experience running a tennis facility. “Right now, we need to be thinking about being ready to move on (with the new season).”
The comments gained immediate traction with others around the Council dais, as well as GCI, whose president was given a turn at the microphone, where he stressed the importance of a joint Council-GCI committee that he said would improve the relationship.
“The only think I would ask is we still keep some sort of committee format going,” Minton said. “(In the past) we’re thinking we’re doing the right thing only to find out not everyone is being informed.”
He favored going forward with the 2013 contract, “but I really want to see us … work together with the goal of getting this thing figured out for next year.”
Potential restaurant tenants “see what’s in the media and the papers” when the city and GCI are at odds. Adding that to what has been a difficult environment to attract anyone interested in opening a restaurant in the age of COVID-19, and it has been “very difficult right now. It doesn’t make it any easier for me to explain to these people,” Minton said.
One of the key shortcomings of the 2013 agreement, Minton said, was the lack of a joint committee that could keep the lines of communication open between GCI and the city.
“We all agree that this is a great asset to our community,” Mayor Keith Johnson said. “And we gotta keep it open.”
Mark Curran doesn’t live in Litchfield, but he believes he knows where the city’s most dangerous intersection is.
His daughter was involved in a crash there.
Fortunately, neither Curran’s daughter nor the driver of the other vehicle was seriously injured when they collided at the intersection of U.S. Highway 12 East and County State Aid Highway 34 recently. But Curran, an Eden Valley resident, thinks a more serious result could be only a matter of time.
“It is an extremely dangerous intersection in my opinion,” Curran said during an appearance at the Litchfield City Council meeting Feb. 1. “I’m just trying to draw attention to a problem.”
Curran is not alone, of course.
The 12/34 intersection has been a topic of conversation for many years, discussion that has only increased as Litchfield’s commercial district has extended east. CSAH 34 traffic heading south arrives at a “T” with a stop sign at the intersection with U.S. Highway 12. With high volumes of east-west traffic on the federal highway, turning — especially left turns — from CSAH 34 can be a nerve-racking experience. The busy intersection’s pitfalls are exacerbated by a frontage road that runs parallel to Highway 12 and dumps on to CSAH 34 within feet of the 12/34 exchange.
Mayor Keith Johnson acknowledged the intersection has been “a concern for years,” while also pointing to the Precision Drive -U.S. Highway 12 intersection as problematic. The city’s ability to do anything — beyond raising the issue with the Minnesota Department of Transportation — is limited, Johnson said.
During reconstruction of North Sibley Avenue/Highway 12 this past summer in downtown Litchfield, MnDOT — in recognition of the likely increased traffic on CSAH 34 due to the detour around the construction zone — installed a traffic light at the intersection.
But when construction concluded in September, MnDOT removed the traffic light.
At the time, City Council member Darlene Kotelnicki asked during a Council meeting what could be done to keep the light in place. Other Council members replied that what they’d heard the intersection would be part of a highway improvement plan later in the decade. Given that, it seemed unlikely MnDOT would leave the light in place or provide any other changes to the intersection.
That line of thinking was repeated during last week’s City Council meeting.
Highway 12 is scheduled for an upgrade from Holcombe Avenue in Litchfield all the way to Cokato, beginning in 2023, according to Councilor Eric Mathwig.
City Administrator Dave Cziok told the City Council that MnDOT performed an intersection control evaluation, or ICE, in 2016, with a number of options considered, including stoplight, three-way stop and roundabout.
“At that point in time, there was a favoritism for a roundabout,” Cziok said, however, there was not enough space to accommodate a traffic circle, with the intersection surrounded by the railroad on the south, and private properties on the northwest and northeast.
Cziok suggested the city collaborate with Meeker County officials, so they could have their interests represented when MnDOT begins planning.
“It’s not our intersection,” Cziok said. “We don’t have any authority to put up any stoplight. Even speed control is not our authority.”