When Mary Crain reentered the workforce after 25 years to manage her husband’s dental office, she was greeted by weeks of headaches as she coordinated COVID-19 safety efforts.

Crain, who manages Cranston Family Dentistry in Beloit, said she has spent countless hours on the phone and online to find out how she could access COVID-19 testing, personal protective equipment and—finally—vaccines for her staff.

Crain felt relieved when she received a call early last week telling her that Mercyhealth was offering vaccines to independent health care organizations.

Getting vaccinated Thursday was “freeing,” she said.

“Mercy Hospital, my hat is off,” Crain said, complimenting Rock County’s largest health care system.

Mercyhealth and SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville last week began offering COVID-19 vaccines to other health care organizations.

Both health systems continue to field requests from organizations looking to get vaccines for qualifying health care workers, representatives said.

On Thursday, 400 health care workers not affiliated with Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center were vaccinated at the Janesville hospital.

Health care workers from all kinds of practices and organizations are considered part of the 1A COVID-19 vaccination priority group. However, several leaders of small health care organizations said logistics for getting their staffs vaccinated have been difficult to navigate.

Ian Hedges, CEO of the free charitable clinic HealthNet, was among the 400 people vaccinated Thursday.

HealthNet officials have heard little from the state about vaccine distribution despite having applied to be a vaccine provider at the same time as other health care systems, Hedges said.

Hedges said HealthNet’s application was in limbo until state Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, and former Democratic Rep. Deb Kolste of Janesville intervened on the nonprofit’s behalf.

Workers and prominent volunteers at HealthNet have close contact with vulnerable populations, so it was critical that they get vaccinated quickly, Hedges said.

That’s why HealthNet chose to work with Mercyhealth to get staff vaccinated versus waiting for clearance and resources from the state, he said.

Hedges said HealthNet’s application is now being reviewed so the nonprofit can distribute vaccines when they are available to the general public.

HealthNet already has a plan in place to distribute vaccines to people who might not be connected to primary care providers or health care systems, he said. The nonprofit plans to host community vaccination sites at the Janesville Community Center in the Fourth Ward and New Zion Baptist Church in Beloit once vaccines are available.

Leslie Hammer, owner of Hammer Chiropractic in Milton, said she started calling the county health department and emergency operations center as soon as she knew the vaccine was coming to the area.

Hammer said she quickly learned there was no plan for getting vaccines to private practices.

She contacted Mercyhealth directly, and about two weeks later, she and her staff were vaccinated.

Hammer and Cain acknowledged that the pandemic has moved quickly and the vaccine is new, which makes planning difficult at all levels.

Hedges said it is imperative that coordination and communication improve so lives—and the nation’s economy—can be saved.

Hammer Chiropractic never closed during the pandemic. Hammer said the staff met the chiropractic and physical therapy needs of people who postponed surgeries and were in pain or discomfort.

Hammer said her staff has been looking forward to the vaccine for a while.

Crain’s dental staff works regularly with aerosol equipment that blows air around the office, which has the potential to spread the coronavirus through the air.

Protecting staff who work inside people’s mouths has been challenging, Crain said.

Crain and her staff arrived at Mercyhealth hospital at 6 a.m. Thursday to make sure they were at the front of the line to get vaccinated. She is excited to tell patients that her team is protected from the virus once they all receive their second doses.

“It’s a happy day,” Crain said.

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