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OHIO’s new Heritage Hall opens doors for COVID-19 vaccine distribution

Stepping through the front doors of Ohio University’s new Heritage Hall, community members are met with the gleam of natural light flooding the atrium and repurposed Athens blocks lining the walls of the café. But on Thursday, Jan. 7, it was the public health professionals distributing COVID vaccines who truly made the space feel warm and bright.

“We’ve been struggling and in some dark times over the last several months,” Athens City-County Health Commissioner James Gaskell, MD, said. “But now, suddenly, we are given hope because we have vaccines available that can prevent disease and end this pandemic. We are incredibly optimistic and thankful that we have Heritage Hall in which to administer large amounts of the vaccine to people and feel as though this is the light at the end of the tunnel. Our days are happier now because we are immunizing people.”

Heritage Hall, located on West Union Street in Athens, is a new state-of-the-art medical education facility housing the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine. Thanks to a major gift from the Osteopathic Heritage Foundation, this new space was created to promote innovative medical education while also improving community outreach.

The building is already accomplishing one of its goals with this inaugural undertaking. The Health Department, through a use-of-space agreement, is  distributing the Moderna COVID vaccine to individuals in the Phase 1A group, which includes front line healthcare staff, first responders, dentists, optometrists and those with developmental disabilities located in congregate settings.

"I can't imagine a better way to kick off a new year in our new medical education facility,” OHIO Chief Medical Affairs Officer and Heritage College Executive Dean Ken Johnson, DO, said. “Today's vaccination clinic is truly a new beginning. You can see the hope and relief in the faces of the first responders and healthcare workers who are receiving and administering the vaccines. I am incredibly honored that the debut of Heritage Hall is supporting the historic effort to eradicate COVID-19."

The first vaccine distribution in Heritage Hall took place Jan. 7, when more than 200 first responders and home health care professionals received vaccinations. 

“We looked at several sites as places to distribute the vaccine, but when Dr. Johnson offered the new Heritage Hall, we knew this was the most efficient space to make the vaccine accessible while keeping people safe,” Gaskell added. “With new vaccines such as this, you must provide an observation room where people can wait for at least 15 minutes to make sure there are no reactions. The large, open space in Heritage Hall is the perfect place to allow for 50 people to safely keep their distance while being observed, something that will be even more helpful when we are supplied more doses of the vaccine and can vaccinate hundreds more people.”

OHIO’s partnership with the ACCHD began in the midst of the pandemic when they worked together to ensure students, faculty, staff and community members were safe and had the right resources available. Now with the use of Heritage Hall to administer vaccinations, the ACCHD and OHIO plan to continue their partnership and this use of space to distribute even more vaccines in the coming months.

“This partnership with OHIO has been great and we’re really thankful to have had leaders like Dr. Ken Johnson, Dr. Gillian Ice and President M. Duane Nellis, as well as a facility like this, to help keep the community safe,” ACCHD Administrator Jack Pepper said. “We have almost the entirety of the Athens City-County Health Department staff working to distribute this vaccine and look forward to continuing to work with OHIO by recruiting their medical faculty and students and nursing students to help distribute even more vaccines when the time comes to deliver them to the greater community.”

Pepper said the health department anticipates that once they are able to receive more vaccines, Heritage Hall could see 400 or more people walk through the doors in a day for a vaccine and that they plan to administer vaccines on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.  

“As a public health professional, I was fortunate to receive the vaccine last week and can honestly say it was emotional,” Pepper said. “It has been a very challenging time and we’re just getting started, but this vaccine feels like the first real, tangible thing that has given us definitive hope that we could manage this – that at the end of the day we could communicate to our community that change is coming.”

January 11, 2021
Samantha Pelham