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Coming back for the community: retiree to vaccinator

Sue McNaboe, RN, knew she had skills that her community needed, so she came out of retirement to become a vaccinator.

The arrival of safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines signaled a turning point in the pandemic. There were, of course, plenty of logistics to sort out, but as the first doses were dispensed, these new vaccines represented a sort of light at the end of the tunnel.

As South Dakota entered the 1D phase of vaccination — opening appointments up to the public — Monument Health opened two vaccination clinics in the area. On Monday, Feb. 8, these locations in Spearfish and Rapid City began administering vaccines to community members. The Rushmore Mall location in Rapid City can administer about 1,300 vaccinations per day, while the Spearfish location vaccinates between 130 and 200 people daily.

Administering to the public introduced a new challenge, however. How could caregivers and physicians keep up with the demand as the amount of vaccines allotted to the region increased? Skilled vaccinators would be needed to keep things running smoothly. Luckily, a number of nurses and caregivers stepped out of retirement to help protect their community.

“It was making me crazy watching the TV every day and seeing what people were going through,” said Karen Burton, RN. “I called my old boss and said, ‘are we going to have a clinic, because I hear they’re hiring retired nurses all over the country, and maybe I could do that.’ So I was really happy when I learned about this.”

Karen had retired three years ago, and is no stranger to administering vaccines — while she served as a data analyst for the hospitalist service, she also did all their flu shots and TB testing. She wasn’t alone in her decision to step out of retirement to help out. Many caregivers felt the same way.

Sue McNaboe, RN, was a retired operating room nurse, who similarly felt like she needed to help. “It’s really hard when you know you have something to offer,” she said. “This is my way of being able to give something back and do it appropriately and confidently.”

When Karen Burton, RN, heard that retired nurses were coming back to administer vaccines, she knew she wanted to be a part of that.

As of Monday, Feb. 22 Monument Health had received 43,995 total vaccine doses — both Moderna and Pfizer — and administered 30,796 doses. 3,373 doses were sent to non-Monument Health locations.

Monument Health Rapid City Hospital acts as the central holding and distribution center for the COVID-19 vaccines for all of western South Dakota. In addition to allocating doses to Monument Health hospitals in Custer, Lead-Deadwood, Spearfish and Sturgis, doses are also sent to health care systems in Bennett and Fall River County, Philip Health Services Kadoka Clinic and three Horizon clinics that operate in Faith, Mission and White River.

Nearly 28,000 individuals from western South Dakota have registered to add their names to the Vaccine Waitlist. Anyone older than 16 is encouraged to sign up to indicate their interest in receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. When their phase opens up for vaccination, those on the waitlist receive a call to schedule an appointment.

The amount of people on the waitlist shows just how eager community members are to get vaccinated. Those who have received their first or second dose have been incredibly grateful for the opportunity, reflected Sue. “Everybody is happy. Patients that come through, the community members, they are so thankful to be able to get their shots,” she said. “Everybody is ready to move forward, they’ve been so cooperative and grateful, and so the staff that’s giving the shots are happy to be part of this.”

There are still a lot of South Dakotans that need to be vaccinated. That won’t happen overnight, but rest assured that in time, everyone who wants the vaccine will receive it, thanks to the efforts of Monument Health caregivers — especially those who came out of retirement to help their community in a time of need.

We would like to thank all of our caregivers, in all of our markets, for making the COVID-19 vaccine rollout so successful. It is thanks to your hard work that we continue to remain ahead of schedule.

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