OHA team finds a way to bring testing and vaccines to communities

Last fall, Oregon Health Authority (OHA) Testing Program Manager, Kristen Donheffner came up with a plan to create more access to COVID-19 testing in Oregon.  

“You know I had this kind of wild idea,” Kristen said. “How about we get some vans? They could drive to a farm and test people right where they are. They could drive to a school. They could meet people where they are instead of making people go somewhere.” 

Making this happen turned out to be quite a feat.  

The first step was ordering the vans. With the global supply chain strained by the pandemic, it meant calling multiple dealerships, pleading with the dealers and explaining that the vans were needed for the COVID-19 response. 

After finally locating the vans, the next step was remodeling the insides to create a clinical environment.  

Kristen laughed and said, “I had no idea this would be so hard! Once we got the vans and we started remodeling the insides, getting all of the generators and the supplies for them was hard, because there’s just this sort of global shortage of chips, of processors. Then there was an ice storm. Everyone needed a generator.”  

Eventually, seven vans were ordered. Three vans were promised to community health organizations and OHA would use four. When the first van was ready last week, Kristen informed the director of White Bird Clinic, which provides health care to hard-to-reach communities in the Eugene area, that they could pick it up.   

The clinic director decided to take the train up to Portland so he could drive the van back. When he asked how far it was from the train station to the shop, Kristen realized she needed to meet him. The van was waiting at a shop on Swan Island, nowhere near the train station. She drove from her home in Salem, met the clinic director at the train station and drove him to the shop. Of course, they wore masks and kept their windows open.  

Kristen walked the White Bird Clinic director through how to use the van, how the generators work, how the awnings work, and all the rest of the van details, then handed over the title.  

White Bird Clinic had an event soon after they got the van and more are coming up soon. “So they were just really excited to get the van and to start using it,” said Kristen. “I think in the future, long past COVID-19, this is something that they’re going to be able to use to support just regular flu vaccine or wellness visits or harm reduction outreach in Eugene.” 

Neighborhood Health Center and HIV Alliance will also receive vans in the next week or so. The OHA Field Operations Team is excited to start using these vans for smaller pop-up vaccine or testing events throughout the state. The plan is to use them initially at farms or camps, to deliver vaccines to migrant and seasonal farm and agricultural workers or to unhoused individuals. Going forward, they will also be used to deliver vaccines or testing in rural areas where there might not be a clinic or pharmacy, or at a community event hosted by a community-based organization, church or employer.   

For Public Service Recognition week, we thank public health workers all over the state who are going to great lengths to meet the needs of people in Oregon during the COVID-19 pandemic.

From left, photo of the van before remodel, followed by the van with awning and clinic.

This article first appeared in the May 7, 2021 issue of Oregon Coronavirus Update.