PHS happy with vaccination progress, ranks first in long-term care vaccinations

CRETE, NE — Public Health Solutions District Health Department reported its first COVID-19 case on April 1 last year.

The health department, which covers five southeast Nebraska counties, reported multiple new cases every week after that until last week. Then, the full-circle report of just one new case.

“It was just awesome to know that things are finally getting back to a little bit of normal," Health Director Kim Showalter said. "We hadn’t had that in over a year, so when we had that one case it was kind of a cause for celebration here.”

Showalter says it’s no mystery why infection numbers have plummeted. About 50 percent of people 16 and over in the PHS district are fully vaccinated, which ranks sixth out of Nebraska’s 18 local health departments according to state data. Showalter says PHS is first in the state in percentage of vaccinated long-term care residents. She credits the work of healthcare providers and pharmacists.

“If we called, they said yes, I’ll go out and vaccinate one resident at a time," Showalter said. "I think it’s just been a collective effort of all the providers in our district just really jumping in and saying we want to make sure everyone has access to vaccine.”

PHS was one of the last districts to offer big community clinics, opting instead to use local providers for the first phases of the vaccine rollout.

“At the time we didn’t have that much vaccine, and we had providers all across the district willing to vaccinate anyone," Showalter said. "So, we knew if we just stayed the course and the providers kept vaccinating and we kept making sure that people had access, we knew we’d get to this point.”

Now, the health department offers walk-in vaccine clinics at its new facility. When it comes time for booster shots in the fall, it’s back to the doctor’s office.

“We’re hoping to see it get back to more of a medical model where you just go to your provider like you would for a flu shot or any other vaccination,” Showalter said.