PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A fire department in rural northwest Oregon is going the extra mile with their COVID-19 vaccination efforts.
The Mist-Birkenfeld Rural Fire Protection District in Columbia County has spear-headed multiple clinics in the surrounding areas, including at their fire department.
But what makes them stand out is their ability to take their mission on the road.
“That program is the CHIPP program. Community Health Integrated Paramedicine Program. Again, we developed it probably two years ago. I think it came up as an idea, has been in the works for a year and a half where we do home visits on home bound residents, some follow up health care, that sort of thing,” explained Mist-Birkenfeld RFPD Fire Chief Joe Kaczenski. “Since we already had that program established, it was easy enough to add this vaccination into it.”
Emergency medical service personnel from the fire department are able to go to rural residents who have difficulty getting out of their homes and administer the vaccine right there.
“In EMS, it’s known as community paramedicine. And it was set up initially for residents again because we don’t have any other type of clinics or hospitals out here,” said Larry Boxman, EMS Division Chief for Mist-Birkenfeld RFPD.
Boxman explained it is a model that is designed to follow up with people who have chronic health issues, people who recently had a procedure done, like knee replacement or open heart surgery, take their vitals, and make sure they have access to food, water and heat “just to make sure that they’re doing OK so that they wouldn’t have to call 9-11.”
The home visits through the CHIPP program, which includes vaccine distribution, are free for residents of the greater RFPD region.
“It’s amazing, it really is,” said Grace Chadwick, a resident of Fishhawk Lake in Clatsop County and whom she and her elderly father received both doses of the Moderna vaccine through the home visitation community medicine program.
Chadwick explained her father, who is 81 and a former racecar driver, gets nervous easily when traveling by car. “He has Alzheimer’s so I take care of him. And once we found out that the fire department was going to come to us, that was great!”
Hailey Palmore, Director of Public Health for Mist-Birkenfeld RFPD, helps oversee the vaccine rollout for the fire department. She said it’s been quite busy ever since their first clinic opened on March 10, just over a week after gaining employment there following longtime volunteer service with the district.
“Right now, we have three different clinic sites that we’re doing, in Columbia and Clatsop County. And then next month we’re going to open a 4th clinic site [in Clatskanie], which is super exciting,” she said.
Palmore said rural communities often get overlooked for early access to healthcare and public health services in general.
“It’s a tougher group of people to access, just ’cause they’re more spread out. Not everyone has internet. Not everyone has cell phones,” she said. “So we’re really happy and privileged to be able to provide this service out here so people can get vaccine easily.”
On average, Palmore said running the clinic for a full day sees anywhere between 70-90 people, though the hours vary by day and location. In addition, appointments have to be made in advance to get the vaccine.
Though the main focus of the Mist-Birkenfeld RFPD is to assist rural residents in the area with vaccinations, they do take names for a waitlist for those outside the region in case there are any last-minute cancellations. Some people from Portland have been able to get vaccinated at the fire station through this on-call method.
Palmore explained part of the reason is because the Moderna vaccine expires within six hours after it is drawn up, so cancelled appoints might result in a dose going to waste. In addition, there are sometimes an “11th dose” of the vaccine available to be drawn from the vial, an extra dose that they typically schedule for since it is not a guarantee.
“Our goal, and we’ve been able to do it so far, is never waste a vaccine, including the extra doses. We’ve been able to find arms for all of them,” Palmore said.