COVID-19 Vaccination Effort at BILH

Vaccinating at BIDMC and Beyond

Inside the system-wide effort to vaccinate patients across Beth Israel Lahey Health


BILH COVID-19 Vaccination SiteThroughout the spring of 2021, hundreds of thousands of patients across eastern Massachusetts opened their email to find a message from Beth Israel Lahey Health (BILH) that they had been eagerly awaiting. “Schedule your COVID-19 Vaccination,” read the subject line. After more than a year of living with the pandemic—with lockdowns, restrictions, heartbreaks, and worry—these words were a welcome sign of hope.

“Once we began administering vaccines, a new group of exceptionally grateful patients came through the door each and every day,” says Ellen Volpe, Vice President of Ambulatory Services for BIDMC. “It was so gratifying and unlike anything I have ever experienced.” Led by BILH Chief Strategy Officer Peter Shorett, the BILH-wide COVID-19 vaccination effort was developed and executed by a dedicated, multidisciplinary group. The massive public health initiative prioritized vaccine distribution to communities with the greatest incidence of COVID-19, ensuring that all BILH patients were provided the opportunity to receive the vaccine in a timely manner once they met state eligibility criteria.

“During the pandemic, the benefit of being part of a system was made very clear,” says BILH Director of Integration Projects Sylvia Odiana. “The ability to centralize all of our efforts, to collaborate with everyone, and to collectively use our resources led to a focused, coordinated, and consistent initiative.” At their busiest times, the group met every day—weekends included—to manage the process for more than 14,000 patients per week to get vaccinated. “Everything was happening so fast, so we needed to anticipate every possible scenario,” says Sylvia. From February 2021, more than 400,000 doses would be administered at 10 vaccination sites located throughout the BILH service area.

So many people came together with the single-minded goal of protecting our patients.
Larry Markson, MD, MPH
BILH IT Vice President for EHR, Ambulatory and WebOMR

Meeting Round-the-Clock Challenges

Even as newly developed COVID-19 vaccines awaited FDA authorization for emergency use, the BILH team shifted into planning mode. They depended on BILH Executive Director of Real Estate Bill Burley and BIDMC Director of Facilities Jarrod Dore to scout eastern Massachusetts for spaces that could accommodate the vast needs of high throughput vaccination clinics. “Our vaccination facilities were set up in record time, and it was no small feat,” says David Flanagan, BIDMC Vice President of Capital Facilities and Engineering. “We worked as a team—nothing we do is possible without clinical and operational partners.”

Former retail stores, office buildings, senior centers, and houses of worship spanning Chelsea, Dorchester, Cambridge, Burlington, Quincy, Plymouth, Beverly, Gloucester, Newburyport, and Boston’s Longwood area were soon reconfigured into vaccination sites. At the same time, dozens upon dozens of freezers were set up at the BILH pharmacy facility in Westwood, transforming the space into a centralized vaccine distribution center.

“Each day, we were solving unbelievable logistical challenges,” says Sherman Zemler Wu, Vice President of BILH Pharmacy Business Operations. “We saw incredible commitment from every member of our team at every level—everyone was coming in early and staying late to keep up with the vaccine supply. It was an honor to play a part in such an impactful effort.” Director of BILH Pharmacy Strategy and Planning Lauren Palmer worked with the pharmacy team to manage vaccine inventory distribution to staff at the 10 BILH vaccination sites led by operational leads, project managers, and site managers: Alex Barker, Shauna Coppinger, Janet DaCosta, Jackie Erbafina, Kerry Falvey, Kelly Granz, Debbie Grover, Erin Jackson, Melissa Johnston, John Kemble, Tammi Lawrence, Minh Le, Tania Mangahas, Lucia Matos, Sandi Leitao, Tracy Pelletier, Laura Plum, Ron Ponchak, Elise Porter, Andrea Quinn, Ian Quinn, Emily Senarian, Heather Simpson, Rachel Twombly, and Ellen Volpe. “The key to pulling off this enormously intense operation was our extremely dedicated site managers,” says Volpe.

Equitable Vaccine Distribution

Once sites were set up and supply was in place, the next critical step was reaching out to patients.

“When the vaccines came along, it was such an unbelievably positive feeling,” says BIDMC internal medicine physician and BILH Health Equity Advisor Leonor Fernandez, MD. “It was a joyous feeling of ‘spring is coming,’ and yet we also knew there was a risk of not getting this incredible breakthrough to the people who needed it most.” As the team’s health equity lead, Fernandez collaborated with Shorett, as well as colleagues in Communications, Interpreter Services, the Center for Healthcare Delivery Science, and the entire vaccination team to ensure that vaccine administration and distribution was prioritized in communities where residents were at a higher risk of contracting the virus. “Health disparities align with language barriers and structural racism—that was critical to consider as we implemented active outreach and prioritization, so patients from these communities would get access to the vaccine,” says Fernandez. “We also looked closely at geography, gender, age, and literacy. Peter [Shorett] enabled us to integrate equity considerations into every vaccination strategy decision—that support was critical.”

For example, Larry Markson, MD, MPH, BILH IT Vice President for EHR, Ambulatory and WebOMR, and Venkat Jegadeesan, BILH Vice President for Technology and Innovation, and their teams implemented a seamless, user-friendly system for booking vaccine appointments that prioritized specific communities. “We went to great lengths to ensure our outreach would be as equitable as possible, no matter what hospital or community practice you were part of,” says Markson. The team first identified all patients who had visited Beth Israel Deaconess HealthCare—Chelsea and Bowdoin Street Health Center within the past three years. The next wave of invitations was extended to the top 11 ZIP codes within the BILH service area with the highest incidence of COVID-19, and subsequently, BILH patients throughout eastern Massachusetts were invited.

For months, staff working on location at vaccination sites witnessed tears of joy, relief, and gratitude every day—all thanks to this multidisciplinary team’s unprecedented efforts.

“So many people came together with the single-minded goal of protecting our patients,” says Markson. “It was the most extraordinary experience of my career and I feel so proud to have been part of this work.”