Montana VA at forefront of rural vaccine program - Montana VA Health Care System
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Montana VA at forefront of rural vaccine program

A nurse administers a vaccine to a Veteran

Fort Harrison nurse Jeri Sullivan vaccinates a grateful Vietnam Veteran

By Jill Atwood, Director of Communications, VA Salt Lake City HCS
Monday, February 8, 2021

O-dark thirty. A small plane glides into Glacier Park International Airport with precious cargo on board. It carries a lifeline for rural Veterans of Kalispell, Montana.

“We’ve got gold in this cooler,” said Todd Weber, nurse manager with the Montana VA Health Care System.

The “gold” is 400 Moderna vaccines for high-risk Veterans in one of the more remote parts of Montana – gold Weber is anxious to get in the arms of Veterans. It could have taken weeks to deliver the vaccine given the weather, terrain, and demand, but for VA, a delayed timeline was not an option.

“We’ve got two 96-year-olds, three purple heart recipients, and six female Veterans receiving vaccines today,” said Dr. Judy Hayman, director of the Montana VA.

The mass vaccination is VA’s second in Montana. To do it, VA staff from four different locations combine vision, planning, and teamwork to execute the mission.

“Everybody sent staff from everywhere to make this happen,” said Tiny Hudson, Kalispell VA clinic manager. “Kalispell Clinic rocks.”

VA will continue to provide Veterans some security in these uncertain times. For Veterans, receiving the vaccine, everything changes.

“It’s a feeling of freedom not only for me but others I might infect,” said Army Veteran Carol Beaubion. “I think it’s wonderful. I was so surprised.”

Veterans seem grateful and talk about the light at the end of the tunnel. However, cautious optimism prevailed.

“I am still going to wear my mask until this is over,” said Vietnam Veteran Robert Suffia.

Some are anxious to see their grandkids again. Others say it would be nice to see a movie soon. For healthcare providers, the work is long and stressful. But it’s worth it.

“This means everything to me,” said Montana VA nurse Jeri Sullivan. “This means serving all these Veterans, and isn’t that what we are here for?”

At the clinic, moments of relief and joy flash across the room. Another battle fought and won: victory and hope from a simple vaccine.

The Montana VA HCS is the lead site in the country for VHA’s national rural distribution pilot program. The MTVAHCS is documenting and sharing its successes across the nation to help other VA sites distribute vaccines to rural Veterans.

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