Volunteers are needed at the mass vaccine clinic operated by MaineHealth and York County government at the Center for Shopping in Sanford, and a link to sign up is in the accompanying column. Here, Wells Police Chief Jo-Ann Putnam, volunteering at the site, chats with Elizabeth Martin of Berwick, who stopped by for her vaccine jab. Tammy Wells Photo

SANFORD — Some people seeking a coronavirus vaccine can be a bit anxious, and so Jo-Ann Putnam, possessed of a calming voice, no doubt from her nearly 40 years of law enforcement, does her best to be reassuring.

“You try to make it the best experience possible,” she said on Friday, April 16 at the mass vaccine site in Sanford, operated jointly by the people from MaineHealth — locally that’s Southern Maine Health Care — and York County Emergency Management Agency.

The vaccine site in south Sanford, at the former Marshall’s location at the Center for Shopping on Main Street, Route 109, could use more volunteers these days to greet people arriving for their  appointments and ask the precautionary COVID-19 questions; be a wayfinder, guiding patients to the health care personnel administering vaccine; or an observer — the person who keeps an eye on the those who have been vaccinated and make sure they stay the required 15 minutes after receiving their shot.

“We definitely need volunteers,” said York County Emergency Management Agency Director Art Cleaves on April 20 — noting on that day, the clinic was short two volunteers for the afternoon shift, and had to call on fulltime county employees to cover the vacancies.

Putnam, the Wells Police Chief, was volunteering as a wayfinder on April 16, making sure people finished their paperwork, helping if they hadn’t, and then showed them the way to a seat where a trained member of MaineHealth clinical staff or an Emergency Medical Technician from a municipal fire and rescue agency would administer the vaccine.

“If they’re nervous, I escort them to their chair,” said Putnam. “We try to make it as smooth as possible.”

She’s been volunteering on Fridays and on some Saturdays for the past month.

She enjoys it, she said it helps the wider community, and Putnam encourages her employees to pitch in as well. They have, she said, as have employees from other Town of Wells departments. Municipal employees from other communities help too.

The vaccination clinic opened March 2. Allision Kenty of Southern Maine Health Care said through April 15, 16,471 first dose vaccines and 11,107 final doses had been administered at the Sanford site.

“Shots per day have varied based on our allocation of vaccine, but we have gone from 240 per day in March when we opened, and have increased to anywhere from 700-950 per day in April,” said Kenty, who manages marketing, communications and public affairs for SMHC.

On the afternoon of April 16, 501 doses were administered from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

That afternoon, I volunteered to be one of six greeters. We were the ones who welcomed people, ascertained they had appointments, asked a series of screening questions about symptoms and COVID-19 exposure, and  handed them a clipboard with the medical paperwork they would fill out before they were to get their jab.

At 12:30 p.m., the security people opened the main doors, and a flood of people came in, all ready to get their shot. That afternoon, it was first doses of Moderna. Before they left, patients received appointments for their second dose.

As I asked those initial questions, I observed that most arriving for their vaccination appeared to be around 40 or younger, and many of those appeared to be in their 20s and 30s. Most seemed happy to be there — and most answered the questions with good humor, though at least a couple answered in a tone that seemed to say “arrgh, get on with it.”

And when someone is wearing a face covering, it isn’t easy to discern what’s going on behind the mask — but the eyes can give a hint. I saw a lot of smiling eyes. I saw some seemed a bit nervous.

One woman said exactly what was on her mind, telling  me flat out she was scared, and I did my best to reassure her it would be fine as I pointed her to the next step in the process.

A man asked if his difficulties reading the medical questions would prevent him from getting a shot, and was assured it wouldn’t. A member of another team stepped in to work with him on the questions and the process continued.

What else did I observe that day? Calm, order and organization — a smooth operation — all working with a sense of purpose.

In the center of the room there were three or four desks and chairs grouped together where York County government’s Fire Administrator Roger Hooper, MaineHealth’s Betsy Kelly and a couple of  others oversaw the operation.

“I love this,” said Kelly at the end of the day. “We work as a team.”

Kelly, who works in community health improvement in her regular job, got started with the program vaccinating MaineHealth employees, and it went on from there.

“People are happy to be here,” she said. “And for me, its public health. That’s what I do.”

Anne Malkasian, who retired from a career in health care, said she started volunteering as soon as the clinic opened.

“I love how everyone is charged and energized and happy to be here,” she said, volunteering as a wayfinder that day. “Everyone’s so positive.”

Kenty said those who’d like to volunteer as a greeter, observer or wayfinder — individuals, and those from a business, can sign up at through the link: https://mainehealth-york-county.volunteerlocal.com/volunteer/?id=53015

As well, she said, MaineHealth is hiring for Vaccine Clinic Representatives to work in the clinic to check people in and out, and for scheduling. More information can be found at:  https://www.careersatmainehealth.org/

As for me? Well, my first day won’t be my last. I look at it this way: I’m around positive, happy people who want to be there, and there’s a certain satisfaction that goes along with helping, however small the role.

There’s a sign on the wall of the clinic that says, “We are part of the greatest public health mobilization of our generation.”  Exactly right, and it needs to get done.

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