Meet the volunteer team behind Teton County’s vaccine program

JACKSON, Wyo. — As Teton County’s vaccination program begins, volunteer organizations have come together to help assist in the distribution of the vaccine.

Disaster response organizations such as Team Rubicon (TR), have been quick to establish teams of community volunteers for the Teton County Health Department’s (TCHD) vaccine operation.

“Our community has really been coming together. In terms of our volunteers, we have had full hours filled which has been amazing,” said Team Rubicon Task Force Leader and Jackson Administrator, Melinda Lee. She has overseen the majority of the boots-on-the-ground volunteerism of this program.

With this at hand, the well-being of volunteers also comes as a top priority, and volunteer burnout is a reality looming on the horizon.

“We’re really trying to make the experience as easy and efficient as possible, but also make sure we keep our volunteers on the ground engaged. We want to build a bigger foundation for our core of volunteers because this is not just a one or two-month project- we may be looking at something like an entire year for us to get through vaccination,” said Lee.

The year ahead is long and unpredictable, so a larger pool of volunteers to have readily available is the most ideal scenario for Team Rubicon and the community at large.

“There are things we need to balance, making sure our volunteers don’t burn out….everyone wants to contribute, but at some point, we need a break,” said Lee.

Another factor of this process is managing a timeline and preparing for the reality of mass vaccination in the future. When the time arrives, Lee urged how crucial it will be to have as many hands-on-deck as possible to vaccinate the greater public.

Lee contextualized this statement by providing the statistics of the past few weeks. Simply, when TCHD had more volunteers they were able to operate for more hours.

“In this past week, the third week of January we had 166 hours of volunteer time, that was engaging 30 of our members across three and a half days, and the previous week there were 105 hours with 20 volunteers over three days,” said Lee.

“In my mind the more people that see this process, the better equipped we will be when we come to a bigger vaccination site. We want to be able to give volunteers that break where other new volunteers can come in and learn the process so we can really facilitate and partner with Teton County Health Department while continuing to fulfill their task,” said Lee.

This is not Team Rubicon’s first time providing disaster relief to the community. In fact, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Team Rubicon’s work revolved around large-scale disaster relief such as the aftermath of natural disasters across the country. However, in 2020 they pivoted to respond to COVID by providing food and medical support operations across the United States. As the vaccination programs have begun, TR has stepped up to provide vaccine distribution support.

Augusta Friendsmith of Team Rubicon detailed their current mission and incentives as volunteers working with TCHD.

“The support we offer TCHD is primarily greeting, patient check-in, traffic control, and monitoring of patients after receiving the shot. All of our work has been outside, regardless of weather and our volunteers have braved some extreme conditions and negative temperatures,” said Friendsmith.

“Overall, the work that we do lifts an organizational burden off of TCHD so that they can focus on their mission: getting shots into arms,” said Friendsmith.

Teton County Department of Health is continuously looking for volunteers to assist in the vaccination registration call center. The position entails answering phone calls from members of the community who are unable to register for their COVID vaccination via the web portal and need assistance. Volunteers will speak with the caller briefly about the vaccination selection process and then, using the information provided by the caller, register them for the vaccine. As of now, the program is operating out of the basement of the county building in a COVID-safe environment—HEPA filter, proper PPE, distancing, and sanitation standards will be consistently upheld.

While volunteers are still needed, Friendsmith noted that their volunteer initiative has received an outpouring of community support.

“The response from the community has been incredible. I first posted a request for volunteers on Teton County CAREmongering on Dec. 21, and have since received a flood of interest from people across the county. In four weeks, we have doubled the membership of the Jackson City Team and deployed roughly 25 of our grey shirts to assist the Teton County Health Department in its effort to vaccinate our community,” said Friendsmith.

Shifts are available Mondays through Thursdays, with current hours between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. TCHD asks that you volunteer for a three-hour shift at a time, but are also flexible.

For those interested in volunteering or for more information please visit teamrubiconusa.org or email [email protected]

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