Bassett Hits Home Run
State Approves ‘Massive Vaccination Site’
In SUNY Oneonta, To Begin On Thursday
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
After weeks of lobbying and some heightened expectation, it’s here: Bassett Healthcare Network announced Tuesday afternoon, March 16, that a COVID-19 “massive vaccination site” would be opening two days later, the 18th, in SUNY Oneonta’s Dewar Field House.
The clinic, staffed by 30 “clinical professionals” from Bassett and a National Guard unit, will be open 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
Registration, via www.bassett.org, began the following morning, Wednesday the 17th.
The goal is to ramp up to 1,200 vaccinations a day for three or four months, according to Brinton Muller, Bassett’s Emergency Preparedness manager, who is managing the site.
Ballpark, that could be 100,000 people in the next 100 days.
People from across the state can get vaccinated here, but most people surrounding counties – Chenango, Schoharie and, to a lesser degree, Delaware – were already only a half-hour from “massive sites” at Binghamton, Utica or Albany.
That isolation is why former state senator Jim Seward, who lobbied for the site on Bassett’s behalf, said he used the “vaccine desert” term in his conversations with the Governor’s Office.
It just makes sense that Otsego County’s population will benefit most from the new site’s convenience.
“It’s been a long haul already,” said Seward, who himself was stricken with COVID in March 2020. “It would be wonderful to close it up by the Fourth of July, like President Biden said.”
The governor’s representative to the Mohawk Valley Region, Samantha Madison, met last week with Bassett Network President/CEO Tommy Ibrahim and COO Jeff Joyner, who is also Fox Hospital president, to work out the details.
Tuesday morning, Governor Cuomo announced the Oneonta site, along with nine other new state-run vaccination clinics around New York State.
But Muller said the local one is the first and only in the state where a healthcare network – in this case, Bassett – is handling operations instead of the state Health Department.
“We’re pioneers in this,” said Gabrielle Argo, Bassett spokesman. “It’s really exciting.”
In addition to Seward’s efforts – he joined Bassett as Albany liaison after retiring Dec. 31 from a 34-year state Senate career – Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig said he and county board Chairman David Bliss had been arguing in weekly Mohawk Valley Control Room sessions that “Otsego County and surrounding areas did not have adequate access to vaccines.”
Other local officials in the control room, the conduit whereby the Governor’s Office communicates with the state’s 13 regions, came to agree with Herzig and Bliss, the mayor said, as did RoAnn Destito, the Office of General Services commissioner and Cuomo’s representative.
“She went to bat for us,” said Herzig, adding he is arranging for Oneonta Public Transit to ferry people from downtown to the Dewar for free.
“It’s terrific,” he said. Bliss added, “Our hope is to have everybody vaccinated by July – age 60, 50, 40, until we get down to everyone. The vaccine’s been approved for everybody over 16.”
In Cooperstown, Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch was likewise enthusiastic about the news.
“I had friends who had to drive to Potsdam in February” because the husband had an underlying condition, she said. “It was a 9-½ hour round trip.”
While she predicted the summer season won’t be completely back to normal, “there will be an uptick.”
According to Muller, the “learning curve” is shorter for Bassett – the Dewar clinic is the kind of thing a healthcare system does, and Bassett has had three dry runs in clinic at the Clark Sports Center, inoculating up to 600 people.
Also, he’s undergone annual training programs with the state Health Department for the past 10 years.
“What about HPPA?” he was asked, a reference to the hospital privacy law. “Our people live and breathe HPPA,” he replied.
On a typical day, said Muller, there will be 18-20 vaccinators at the Dewar, a doctor fulltime, a pharmacist, a data coordinator, “and myself.”