The former ShopRite store at 46 Kane St. in West Hartford has been temporarily transformed into a COVID-19 vaccination clinic.
By Ronni Newton
The doors to the former ShopRite reopened Thursday morning – with a use that could never have been contemplated when the store closed for good in November 2019.
The Town of West Hartford, in conjunction with the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District, operates the new regional clinic at 46 Kane St. for eligible Connecticut residents who register through the Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS) website.
“The store was closed and we were approached by the town [of West Hartford] to see if we’d consider it for use as a vaccine clinic – and then it was off to the races,” Chuck Chisholm, director of real estate for Wakefern Foods, told We-Ha.com.
“It’s terrific, one of the best things we can do … to see a good use like this for the community,” he said. The company is providing the space rent free.
By the time the clinic, which opened at 9 a.m. closed for the day at 1 p.m. Thursday, 350 doses of the Moderna vaccine would have been administered, said Aimee Krauss, director of the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District. Many of those are second doses.
There are approximately 400 appointments scheduled for Friday. As long as the vaccine supply is made available, the number of appointments will expand in future weeks. The clinic will allow for at least double the capacity of the facility at Town Hall, where recently 600 doses per week have been administered, and there were 10 stations in operation Thursday. Krauss said there is space for double that number.
“We really, really have some creative leaders that saw we needed to pick up the capacity of how we would vaccinate,” Mayor Shari Cantor said.
Bob McCue, deputy director for the town’s Emergency Management Department, identified the space, Cantor said. Conversations about its used have been ongoing for at least a month, and she expressed her thanks to all who pulled together the effort to create the clinic, including Wakefern.
“One of the things we’re most proud of is the collaborative effort here,” Town Manager Matt Hart said. Employees from a variety of town departments have all worked together.
According to Krauss, the clinic is being staffed by the Health District’s public health nurses, West Hartford Fire Department paramedics, non-public school nurses, and nursing students from the University of Hartford and University of Saint Joseph.
“We want to emphasize to our community, and to the region, the importance of getting vaccinated from a public health perspective,” Hart said. “We really encourage everyone to come out, register, and take advantage of this site or any other site where they can get vaccinated. All three vaccines have been proven to be safe.”
Krauss said it was a historic day for the Health District and the Town of West Hartford. “My goal is to get our residents of Connecticut vaccinated, so with the great partnerships that we have I’m hoping to make that happen as quickly as possible.”
The West Hartford clinic will administer the Moderna vaccine as well as Johnson & Johnson vaccines when those doses are available. The best access to the clinic site is through VAMS, Krauss said. Because the Pfizer vaccine is not currently available at this clinic, only those 18 and up can register.
The clinic is divided into three sections: registration, vaccination, and observation. All who are vaccinated are asked to remain on site for at least 15 minutes – 30 minutes if they have a history of certain allergic reactions.
Hart said the funding for the clinic will mostly come from the state’s coronavirus relief fund. For anything deemed ineligible, the town will plan to apply to use American Rescue Plan Act funds. Health District funds will also be available.
Even though the vaccination process is well underway, “We’re still at the local level seeing a need to provide vaccines to our residents,” Krauss said, including seniors and the underserved population in West Hartford as well as throughout the area.
Cantor noted the convenience of the former ShopRite site, which is accessible not just to West Hartford but also walkable from the Parkville section of Hartford, and easy to reach from the highway.
“Time is of the essence to get vaccinated because the variants are spreading,” said Cantor. “We want to make sure we are doing all we can to help curb that spread. The more availability, the more access, the better that is.” This site is near housing, and on the bus line as well, she said, and has multi-lingual capabilities.
Krauss said dedicated buses, coordinated through the senior centers and social services in Bloomfield, will bring Bloomfield residents to and from the West Hartford clinic.
Plans are to utilize the clinic throughout the months of April and May. It will be open two or three days a week, and more hours and days will be available depending on the dose allocation received by the Health District, Krauss said.
The Health District does have a wait list for extra doses, Krauss said. Names are added through calls to the Health District as well as some that come from West Hartford’s Info Line.
In addition to the public vaccination clinics at the Kane Street site, Krauss said that she has been working on other efforts to target specific populations.
“UConn has agreed to do the West Hartford students,” Krauss said, with a Pfizer clinic to accommodate those who are 16 and 17. The date has not yet been set, and she said she said she is coordinating that with Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore and Assistant Superintendent for Administration Andy Morrow. Any student who are can get an appointment for their first dose elsewhere should do so, she said.
The Health District is also using the West Hartford clinic to target underserved populations who have been identified by the West Hartford Social Services Department. Many of those individuals are attending the clinic Thursday and Friday this week, and according to public health nurse Carol Steinke, will be receiving Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
The Health District does still have a limited supply of the single-dose J&J vaccines, and will also be using those for vaccinating homebound residents through the ARCH program.
Those who received a first dose of the Moderna vaccine at a closed clinic for West Hartford’s Hillcrest area residents at the Elmwood Community on March 26 will receive their second dose at the ECC as well, Krauss said.
A second dose clinic for West Hartford Public Schools employees will be held April 16 at Conard High School, but those teachers who are not able to attend that clinic – which falls during the district’s April break – will be accommodated at the Kane Street location the following week.
Krauss said the Health District is also looking to expand community outreach to encourage and provide the opportunity for populations like local restaurant and grocery store workers to get vaccinated at the clinic.
She is also applying for a grant through the Vaccine Equity Partnerships Funding (VEPF) program to bring the state’s new mobile vaccination vans to West Hartford and Bloomfield.
Pam Greenwood, a resident of Burlington, chose the West Hartford clinic when she registered online through VAMS about a month ago.
West Hartford paramedic Jason Powers administered her vaccine. “That was completely painless. I didn’t feel a thing,” Greenwood said.
She made her second dose appointment, and planned to return to work after her 15-minute observation time.
“I’m just happy to help out and do my part,” said Greenwood. She said the site was convenient and efficient.
“It’s great to see,” said Town Council member Ben Wenograd, who attended the opening of the clinic.
ShopRite closed the West Hartford store in November 2019. Wakefern still holds the lease for the 71,660 square foot space, and Chisholm said all of the equipment had already been removed, and then the town came in and “made it more presentable.”
Krauss said it took roughly a week to get the space ready.
Chisholm said a replacement tenant for the space has not been definitively identified.
According to the town, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has assigned the Kane Street area with a moderate-to-high level Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) score of 0.5639. Kane Street also borders an area with a high-level vulnerability index of 0.9989.
CDC Social Vulnerability Index refers to the potential negative effects on communities caused by external stresses on human health. Such stresses include natural or human-caused disasters or disease outbreaks.
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