The Center for Humanitarian Engagement (CHE) at Walla Walla University is playing a key role in recruiting and organizing volunteers for COVID-19 vaccination clinics held by the Walla Walla County Department of Community Health and Providence St. Mary Medical Center.
An initial clinic on Jan. 18 was planned with little notice at the Walla Walla University Church. However, the rushed nature of the clinic led to long wait times and complications in scheduling appointments for the required second dose. David Lopez, director of the CHE, was contacted to help improve the clinic process, especially by organizing volunteers.
Lopez used his experience with humanitarian development to implement software used to manage volunteers. Almost 120 volunteers are needed each day of the clinics, so a centralized system for communication has been important. Currently, vaccination clinics are held at the Walla Walla Fairgrounds, where more than 18,500 doses of the vaccine have been administered as of March 2. “Our success has been a testament to the great leadership in the county and at Providence St. Mary, and the volunteers who’ve come out.” said Lopez.
The CHE has helped recruit volunteers with a diverse range of skills in order to provide patient registration, mobility aid, and translation services. Dania Estrada-Castanaza, a junior psychology student, helped as a nurse’s assistant by filling out paperwork and going over important information with patients. “Seeing the difference this makes for the patients, and how grateful they are–it’s their lives, it’s their livelihoods–it makes you feel all the more thankful you’re able to help,” she said.
While the clinics have been a success, Lopez notes that there are two big needs the CHE is continuing to address. First is the volunteer burnout that a long-running initiative like this faces. The CHE is continuing to encourage students, faculty, staff, and community members to sign-up through wallawalla.edu/CHE. “If you’re looking for something to do–something fulfilling–this is your chance,” said Estrada-Castanaza.
Wils Haffner, a junior business administration major who volunteered to help less mobile patients get around, added that he felt lucky he was able to help in a safe way. “It is nice to say you were part of the solution for something we’re all dealing with,” he said.
The CHE is also working to be sure those who need the vaccine the most are able to access it. Lopez said that in the Walla Walla hospital system almost 78% of COVID-19 cases were in the Spanish-speaking population and yet these patients have been underrepresented at the clinics. The CHE is looking for resources and volunteers who can help reach these community members with information about the vaccine clinics.
The CHE has also partnered with the Associated Students of Walla Walla University (ASWWU) through their Global Service organization. Students have planned and organized a table at the end of the vaccination system to congratulate and celebrate with patients. “It has been a beautiful experience.” said Lopez. “It’s a neat thing to be a part of a community like Walla Walla that cares for each other.”
Posted March 3, 2021