Michigan’s Lt. Governor came to northern Michigan Friday, to check out the vaccine clinic run by the Grand Traverse County Health Department. The visit comes as the health department is administering the vaccine to a particularly vulnerable population.
9&10 was the only news organization on hand for the event – and Bill Froehlich talked with the Lt. Governor one-on-one.
Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist says he’s impressed by what he’s seeing in Traverse City. “The people who have stepped up here, the partnerships between the county, the college, the United Way, the Michigan National Guard. All coming together to make sure we can vaccinate.”
The Lt. Governor’s official visit comes on a day when the health department is working with The Disability Network – to reach out to vulnerable adults with physical or other disabilities. Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Mike Lahey says, “We’re working with a couple of specific populations, some targeting for some vulnerable populations. So we’re working with the Disability Network and Community Mental Health.”
Lt. Governor Gilchrist adds, “We’re also seeing a focus on vaccinating people who are living with disabilities. And other sorts of physical and mental health challenges. A very critical population in our state that we have to make sure is protected from this virus.”
Jim Moore is the Executive Director of the Disability Network. He says, “People with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to the virus. And with underlying conditions so it’s very important for their safety and their health. We’re very excited to be here and I know the people who are here getting the shots are very excited as well.”
Lt. Governor Gilchrist says, “I really like the fact that this is a hybrid site. Where there are people walking up to get appointments and also people who are driving up to get appointments. I haven’t seen that anywhere else in the state. So it’s really great to see this work happening.”
Lahey says some of that adjustment was done at the last minute. “Based on the population we’re serving today, we as a health department did some pivoting to bring some vaccine out of the building to some folks that may not be able to get out of a vehicle. You really saw that (the Lt. Governor) recognized that on-the-fly decision making. He said he hadn’t really seen that yet.”
That’s an innovation, the Lt. Governor says, that he wants to see put in place all across the state. “This s is really encouraging and motivating to me. Just like it’s motivating to the volunteers and professionals who are serving the people.”
“We’ve seen nurses come out of retirement… we’ve seen community leaders and community organizations come together to partner in ways they never would have partnered before. Because we’re facing the biggest challenge of our lifetimes.”
Community partners say they’re grateful for the Lt. Governor’s visit and to share their efforts. Lahey says, “The weeks are long. It’s been a long year, right? So it’s really nice to see them in the building here, spending time with our staff….. We’re really appreciative of that.”
NMC President Nick Nissley says, “It’s an opportunity for us to say thank you to all of these incredible volunteers, from the National Guard to the community members. Even our own nursing students here at the college.” Nissley also says it’s also a chance for community leaders to recognize volunteer efforts, even though he admits opening up NMC’s Hagerty Center appears to be lasting longer than first expected. “I think like everyone we thought maybe it’s shorter vs. longer. But we’re prepared to help the community as long as we need to. Because we know this is where we need to be right now. This is what the community needs and that’s what we’re here for.”
And it’s turning out to be a benefit for NMC’s nursing students, too. “One commented how much she appreciated having the opportunity to volunteer, to give back to the community. Then she proudly commented ‘I’ve already got a job lined up at Munson!’ So it’s great seeing they’re getting this practical, hands-on experience. They’re giving back to the community.”
The visit comes after President Biden announced a May 1st goal of expanding vaccine eligibility to all adults – and Michigan followed up with its own announcement: that a mass vaccination clinic is coming to Ford Field in Detroit; and Michiganders with disabilities will be eligible to get the vaccine on March 22nd. Then, all residents 16 and up will be eligible for the vaccines starting April 5th.
Lt. Governor Gilchrist says, “We’re working now to make sure that we can ramp up supply to meet demand. But we need demand to stay high because we have a lot of people we want to vaccinate. As we ramp up supply, which has been happening week after week, more and more supply. We have more than 400,000 doses in the state of Michigan just this week alone. Our largest shipment ever. It’s only going to increase, especially with the third safe and effective vaccine.”
The President, in his Thursday night address to the nation, also hinted that the nation was working hard to allow “small gatherings” by the 4th of July. We asked the Lt. Governor about that – and whether Michigan would be following suit or if states had the ability to set their own expectations. “We’re going to go there as responsibly and safely as we can. I can’t say whether it will be exactly July 4th or a date before that. But our goal, Governor Whitmer and my goal, is to make sure people get the safe and effective vaccine, that people are still getting tested so they know their status, and that we can begin to re-engage parts of our economy and activities that we miss and know and love as quickly as possible.”
The Lt. Governor says it’s personal – and he knows it is for many Michiganders. “This is a pandemic that’s visited me personally. On a personal level I’ve lost 27 people in my life to COVID-19. So I understand how hard this is for people in our communities across the state.”
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