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Why We Administered COVID-19 Vaccines to Local Partner Organizations in Need

It’s been a long and difficult road - COVID-19 hit Massachusetts in February 2020. By mid-March, businesses were shutting down and people were hunkering down at home. At Spectrum Health Systems and the New England Recovery Center, we sprang into action and created a specialized COVID-19 unit designed to treat people suffering from drug and alcohol use disorders as well as COVID-19. Through the ups and downs in the Commonwealth, Spectrum and NERC have held steadfast in our mission to help those suffering from substance use disorders even during a global pandemic.

Now, we’re so pleased to share on Friday, January 8, we began vaccinating our staff and high-risk clients with the Moderna vaccine, supplied by the Department of Public Health. And we didn’t stop there. In partnership with the Worcester Department of Public Health, we have also assisted five other incredible local partner organizations in administering vaccinations. To date, we have vaccinated staff at Hector Reyes House, Jana's Place, the Veteran’s Inc. Shrewsbury site, Independence Hall as well as its Worcester site, and AIDS Project Worcester.

"We have felt fortunate to be able to offer this vaccination to all of our front facing staff working with our patients,” said Kristin Nolan, Spectrum’s VP of Behavioral Health. “Our recent work with the COVID-19 vaccinations has been a continuation of our mission and we are committed to ensuring that we are providing equity in access to the COVID-19 vaccination. This is why we are assisting other community-based programs with vaccinating their staff, who also treat individuals with mental health and substance use disorders. Spectrum firmly believes that people should have access to the vaccination regardless of race or socioeconomic circumstances.”

Led and coordinated by Kristin Nolan and our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jeffrey Baxter, the vaccines were distributed in a timely and efficient manner.

“We’re extremely grateful that we were included in the first phase of vaccines and able to start taking the first steps back to normal life,“ said Dr. Baxter. “All five organizations and Spectrum are key pieces to providing much needed assistance to the people in Massachusetts. Being able to share COVID-19 vaccines is an honor and we look forward to the continued work of all of these essential businesses.“

The Hector Reyes House is a residential addiction treatment center servicing Latino men in central Massachusetts. Their intensive cognitive behavioral therapy program paired with post-treatment employment training and career building help these men beat the odds of relapse.

“As essential workers, our staff has faced potential exposures to COVID-19 on a daily basis,” said Aaron Mendel, Executive Director of the Hector Reyes House. “They have worked tirelessly to provide care to our clients. At some level, we have long been waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel. By providing the COVID-19 vaccines to our staff, Kristin Nolan, Dr. Baxter and the entire team at Spectrum have provided that light and we can’t thank them enough.”

Jana’s Place is a first-of-its-kind recovery home for women exiting prostitution and recovering from substance use and co-occurring mental health disorders. Their recovery model focuses on holistic, sustainable recovery emphasizing self-care, life skills development, and job training opportunities.

“As a small stand-alone program, we were worried about our ability to access the vaccination,” said Nicole Bell, CEO of Jana’s Place. “Thanks to Kristin Nolan, Dr. Baxter and the entire team at Spectrum for ensuring smaller programs had access to the vaccination so we were able to continue to provide safe care for the vulnerable survivors we support. Spectrum, in addition to providing access to the vaccine, was a leader in providing care for people with substance use disorder during this unprecedented time and did not hesitate to provide guidance on best practices to the team at Jana’s Place so we could continue to deliver critical services to the women we care for.”

Veterans Inc. is New England’s leading provider of support services to veterans and their families. The support services in Worcester include housing programs, counseling, employment and training, family programs, benefits counseling and advocacy, transportation, temporary financial assistance, health and wellness, food services, and women and childcare services. The Veterans Inc. treatment center, Independence Hall, is located in Shrewsbury and provides inpatient, residential, and outpatient addiction treatment services.

"As an essential business, we have been open to our residents and true to our mission since this pandemic began,“ said Vincent J. Perrone, Lt. Colonel, USAF (retired) President & CEO of Veterans Inc. “Veterans Inc. has worked tirelessly to keep clients and staff safe and this vaccine allocation will go a long way in giving us some peace of mind. We will continue to be diligent with our protocols but feel some sense of relief and utmost gratitude to our friends and partners at Spectrum Health Systems.”

Independence Hall, also known as “The Recovery Renegades” and a part of Veteran’s Inc. in Shrewsbury, provides a compassionate approach to treatment and offers many healthy, educational, active and fun activities and programs to help people get back on their feet.

“Thank you from all of us at Veterans Inc., for the wonderful, generous, and compassionate help that Dr. Baxter and the rest of Spectrum have shown us by vaccinating all of our direct care staff,” said Denis Leary, Executive Director of Veteran’s Inc. site, Independence Hall. “Spectrum is an amazing organization who consistently looks out for its fellow providers. You are all such an incredible asset for the entire community. We want to especially thank the fantastic Dr. Baxter and Kristin Nolan, who went above and beyond for us, working with Jessica Basile, our Nurse Manager, to make sure that the process was well-organized and safe. Dr. Baxter’s personal thoughtfulness to our staff by checking-in with everyone to make sure they felt comfortable and welcome, left our staff feeling incredibly impressed and cared for.”

AIDS Project Worcester, Inc. (APW) is the primary and most comprehensive AIDS Service Organization in central Massachusetts. APW provides a comprehensive range of services to support the medical care and various service needs of persons living with HIV/AIDS and those at greatest risk for HIV and Hepatitis C.

“I am so grateful to Spectrum Health Services and the Worcester Division of Public Health who collaborated to make sure APW's COVID-facing staff were vaccinated,” said Michelle Smith, CEO of APW. “Dr. Jeff Baxter, Kristin Nolan - and the entire Spectrum team - provided a well-organized experience. I think we were all vaccinated in under an hour. I also want to thank our partners at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health who worked to make this possible.”

All these organizations play a vital role in helping people in need, whether they need addiction treatment, a place to live or food to eat, the Bay State knows how to come together for a greater good. We’re thrilled to be able to help supply this vital vaccine to our partners and put an end to the pandemic.

For more information about Spectrum Health Systems, visit www.SpectrumHealthSystems.org. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, call us today at 1-877-MyRehab and we can help you on the journey to recovery.

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