When Katrina Doughty, Regional Field Operations Coordinator for OHA’s COVID Response and Recovery Unit (CRRU), first thought about where to set up a clinic in Yamhill County, she thought of the casino. The plan was to take a Mobile Vaccination Unit (MVU) for a six-week tour of three counties – Polk, Benton and Yamhill. Doughty had worked for the AmeriCorps VISTA program in Yamhill County and knew the casino was located in a heavily trafficked area. But when the local public health authority for Yamhill County was able to coordinate using the high school in the small town of Sheridan where the Sheridan Hometown Days festival is held, she decided to set up there for the first round of vaccinations.
“We ended up with very low numbers for round one at the high school,” said Doughty. “Some days were 3 people. And that’s fine. We want to vaccinate anyone who wants to be vaccinated.”
Sheridan High School is not on a main road, and a it was a large effort for little turnout. Doughty decided to reach out to a contact who works at Grand Ronde Health and Wellness Center to ask if they had a contact at Spirit Mountain Casino. She ended up in touch with the casino’s general manager.
“The general manager was very excited, had a phone call with me, just basically right away said we would love to do something like that. We think it would be important for our staff and for our families,” recalled Doughty. “Very quickly, they let us know that they were invested in making sure this was a success too. They created promotional material, and they offered up resources to be given as incentives.”
For people over 21, Spirit Mountain Casino provided a raffle to win concert tickets and realizing that some folks might have to go out of their way to get their vaccinations, they provided everyone with $5 gas cards. The casino also encouraged their staff to get the vaccine by providing a raffle for them. They purchased $5000 worth of items that vaccinated staff could choose from, such as barbecue grills.
Pointing out that there was uncertainty about what the vaccination effort might look like in Grand Ronde, which is in the rural west valley, Doughty said, “There are definitely folks that aren’t thrilled with the idea of the vaccine. Still, each day we doubled, if not tripled what we had seen at Sheridan High School. Now keep in mind that this was still small numbers. If we had three one day at Sheridan High School, our slowest day at the casino was nine. But that is still three times the impact. Which we were excited about.”
All told, the mobile mission vaccinated 98 people at three different sites – the casino, a local food bank and supporting fire survivors in Otis.
Meeting people where they are at is a principle that leads the CRRU vaccine efforts and it shows. Doughty acknowledges that people gamble, attend concerts, work and use tribal services at and near the casino. It was a good opportunity to meet people in a different way than usual.
The road past Spirit Mountain Casino often has slow traffic, so Doughty spent time alongside the road waving people down and asking if they had gotten the vaccine. They would ask her what was going on with the traffic and she would answer, “I’m not sure, but there’s restrooms here and there’s COVID-19 vaccines.” Two people pulled off the highway to get vaccinated instead of sitting and waiting in traffic.
One was a dad who hadn’t found easy access to Pfizer, and he yelled through the window, “Do you vaccinate kids?” Doughty was able to say yes. They pulled in for a vaccine.
Catching people driving by for a lot of different reasons, whether they’re leaving work, leaving the casino or headed back from the beach, and working with a potentially valuable partner that hadn’t typically been tapped to support public health in the past turned out to be a winning combination.
Vaccination at Spirit Mountain Casino will continue Saturday, July 31 through Thursday, August 5, from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. The clinic will have a smaller footprint alongside the building and will offer both the Johnson & Johnson single dose and both first and second doses of the two dose Pfizer series. A few folks might even step over and get the vaccine while waiting for George Thorogood and the Destroyers to take the stage on the first night.