UAMS Mobile Unit Delivers ‘Shot of Hope’ With Statewide Vaccination Clinics

By Ben Boulden

One such story stands out in the memory of Shannon Langhorn, MPH, LPN, Mobile Unit program manager.

Langhorn had just vaccinated a woman seated next to her at a mobile clinic site, but the patient didn’t stand up to leave after receiving her shot. Langhorn told her she was welcome to go to the post-vaccination observation area of the mobile clinic, but the woman continued to sit and started to cry.

When Langhorn asked her why she was crying, “She said, ‘You don’t know how grateful I am to receive this vaccine. I just had to end life support for my mother two days ago. She died from COVID-19. She is why I am getting this vaccine.’”

A nurse at the Shorter College vaccination clinic March 12 accepts a health document from a patient.

A nurse at the Shorter College vaccination clinic March 12 accepts a health document from a patient.Image by Evan Lewis

“I wanted to hug her, but I couldn’t do that,” Langhorn said. “I told her to take as much time as she needed. You don’t know how many of those stories that are out there like that. At this point, COVID-19 has touched someone we all know. She said her mother was healthy and had no pre-conditions before becoming infected.”

When the Mobile Unit did COVID-19 screening and testing drive-ups in 2020, people could register on-site and walk up. Procedures are a bit different for the vaccination clinics.

The UAMS Mobile Unit averages about three vaccination clinics a week in cities like Forrest City, Clarksville and underserved areas of central Arkansas. Upcoming vaccinations include mobile clinics in Magnolia on March 24, Camden on April 1, Paron on April 9 and Saint Mark Baptist Church in Little Rock on April 10.

People seeking vaccinations have to pre-register for them so Langhorn and the team she works with can ensure the shots are going to prioritized individuals. It also helps them estimate beforehand how many doses to bring to a site.

Because of high demand, high pre-registration numbers, limited supply and the need to use doses before they expire, some clinics early in the process were not always publicly announced. That is changing though.

“We did have to turn people away early on when the rules were much more rigid,” said Deborah Hutts, MSN, RN, clinical services manager with UAMS Triage. “Sometimes we had people standing around hoping for the extra doses. One time I had nine people and two shots left. We can accommodate more people now.”

On March 12 at Shorter College in North Little Rock, the unit vaccinated 286 people and extended its closing from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. to get everybody in.

Robert Hopkins, M.D., left, finishes vaccinating a patient March 22 at the Jericho Way Day Resource Center in Little Rock.

Robert Hopkins, M.D., left, finishes vaccinating a patient March 22 at the Jericho Way Day Resource Center in Little Rock.Image by Ben Boulden

“When they are able to get this vaccine, it’s really a shot of hope,” Hutts said. “‘Happier’ isn’t really the word. It’s ‘ecstatic. The relief is palpable. When they hear we are coming back to give the second doses, it is like putting a big rainbow on top. A physician said to me, ‘This whole year, we’ve been on the defense with social distancing, mask wearing, hand washing, all these things that feel isolating. Now we have an offensive play against COVID-19 — the vaccine.’”

Van Golden, UAMS director of governmental and external affairs, was onsite at the Shorter College clinic. He noted that the mobile clinics would not be successful without the work of the call center.

The employees within the call center don’t receive a lot of credit,” Golden said. “However, they work far beyond the norm for UAMS event registration.”

Hutts called Mobile Unit the operations “smooth,” and Langhorn praised the team for climbing the learning curve rapidly.

“I don’t think everyone understands how hard they work and how well they work together. It’s really a fine-tuned machine to just have a few bumps after a little more than a month doing clinics,” Langhorn said. “I’m very impressed with how well this team runs mobiles. I’m forever grateful to this team that we have community partners and how it comes together in this process we have defined in less than six weeks.”

In addition to Shorter College, the community partners on March 12 included Dixie Community Addition, City of North Little Rock, 12th Episcopal District, Eighth Street Baptist Church, Dark Hollow Community Neighborhood Association, the Arkansas Department of Veteran Affairs, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Bank of America Foundation.