SNAFU tent: Optimizing a Covid-19 Mass Vaccine effort at Many Levels

Dancin’ away troubles at UCHealth’s SNAFU tent for Covid Mass Vaccination

Optimizing the Mass Vaccine Event

This will be a fun exploration from a CMIO’s perspective. Let’s think about individuals and work our way up to national optimization, from a personal perspective. And, don’t miss the SNAFU Tent Vaccine Dance at the end…

Seven Levels of thinking

  • Level 1: Make myself efficient
  • Level 2: Make my pit-crew efficient
  • Level 3: Make all pit-crews efficient
  • Level 4: Make the entire Mass Vaccine efficient
  • Level 5: Optimize Mass Vaccine for volume or cost
  • Level 6: Optimize Health System Vaccination plan
  • Level 7: Optimize National Vaccination

1. Make myself efficient

Readers may remember recent writeups where I incrementally overcome my lack of skill as a physician at vaccinating. I’m a quick study, and when great nurses and medical assistants are around to teach, I got better quickly. See above, with the pre-peeled bandaid/ vaccine/ alcohol swab grip, and second hand to manage the smartphone electronic documentation. I’m MOB-ILE.

Here’s the set up: have an assistant play “keep ahead” by peeling bandaids. The hardest part of the job is peeling bandaids with gloves on.

The next hard part is that vinyl gloves stiffen in cold weather. So, use the sani-wipe jug to elevate your glove box closer to the propane heater. Smart! Actually even that wasn’t really warm enough, so I took to doing this:

I call this “praying to the propane gods.” Or, holding the gloves up for 5 seconds of warmth: makes a huge difference in the ease of putting them on (150 times that day).

Handwarmers: Even better idea

Of course, Bernice comes to me near the end of the day and tells me “Dr. Lin, put 2 handwarmers in your coat pockets and put your next pair of gloves in them, so you always have warm gloves to swap.

“D’oh!” as Homer Simpson would say. Why didn’t I think of that?! Thanks, Bernice.

Colorado Rockies’ Dinger drops by

2: Make my pit-crew efficient

This section is actually mis-labelled. My pit crew made ME efficient. Unlike previous days, where I built up such an efficient process that I was able to stay ahead of my pit-crew colleagues in our 4-car pit-stop, today I was teamed up with 3 outstanding medical assistants from Lowry Internal Medicine, my own UCHealth clinic in Denver: Marina, Yanira and Bernice. The tables were turned: now, every time I looked up from my completed vaccination, the other cars in my pit had already gone! Too fast, gals! You’re too fast for me. 😦

Team Lowry, with my BFF’s.

View of the Mega tent with 4 of the 8 rows, and the pharmacy (vaccine reconstitution tent to the right). The other 4 rows are out of sight to the right of the pharmacy tent. We can vaccinate 32 cars in 8 rows at a time this way. Furthermore, we would huddle and learn from each other “How are you going so fast? What is your set up? How do you ask the screening questions? Where do you put the sharps container?” etc. Thank you, smart colleagues, for teaching me.

3: Make all pit-crews efficient

To further smooth the process, given what we had learned on previous weeks, we posted 4 SNAFU tents after the Mega-tent that we would refer to for any slow-downs or technical concerns. For example, one car pulled up with 3 people to be vaccinated. I would perform one vaccination, and since my row was ready to roll by then, I would place a red card on the windshield, indicating SNAFU and the flaggers would direct the car to receive the remaining 2 shots about 100 yards away. This simple workflow adjustment (4 SNAFU tents for all 8 pit-crews) kept ALL 8 lines moving. This was a difference (for me) between vaccinating 124 people one day and 158 the next. Super smooth.

Another example: a patient drove up and their Electronic Record account showed “second vaccine already administered.” I couldn’t solve it with my smartphone Rover app, so I referred him to the SNAFU tent.

After some investigation, we found out later that day, it turns out that another organization in town had incorrectly registered that patient (a common first and last name and somehow erroneously documented date of birth) so that the mistaken vaccine APPEARED in OUR system on this patient (our separate Epic EHR’s share vaccine records now) that he had already had his second shot (incorrectly). We presume this was because some institutions are still using a paper-vaccination process with “document later” staff (as we did last month, in favor of speedy vaccinations). This re-introduces errors that the EHR was supposed to eliminate (bad handwriting and transcription errors). Hmm.

We are glad we are now using the Rover smartphone app. We’ve tinkered with it so that it is now possible to be as fast with Rover as with paper (AND eliminating the transcription step). 50 seconds with paper, and 50 seconds with Rover. Ha!

4: Make the entire Mass Vaccine efficient

We had lots of competing concerns to keep in mind, when thinking about the entire effort. Police were concerned about backing up waiting cars into nearby streets. (whew, we avoided this). How many total staff were needed to register patients? (too many in version 1) How many tents to rent for these events? (originally 1 mega and 18 cabana-style tents, now 1 mega and 2 cabanas) How would we deal with inclement weather? (snow, rain, black ice, wind: the mega-tent is superior to cabanas for keeping staff out of the weather and minimizing wifi and cell-booster mesh network issues; FYI, my new 5G iPhone 12 pro max was awesome in our pilot testing for speedy smartphone documentation)

Our diligent road crew out there dodging and managing tent-avalanches.

We have been pleased to constantly drive down out patient-throughput times, down to 22 minutes (including the 15 minute observation period)! And this past week on Sunday, we drove our total time down to 16 minutes in some cases: 1.5 minutes for registration, vaccination, a couple minute driving time, and then a 10-minute observation period. Wow. We believe we are the fastest Mass Vaccine service in the country at this rate. Even better, we are making observation OPTIONAL going forward, because of our non-existent severe reaction rate.

We believe we can expand beyond 10,000 per weekend, and believe we can do 20,000 or possibly 26,000 per weekend, if the State has vaccine supply and would like us to.

5: Optimize Mass Vaccine for volume or cost

So, what is the goal of a Mass Vaccine event? Publicity for vaccination? Sure, we had news helicopters circling, lots of press, lots of people commenting on how easy it was, and how much they’re looking forward to hugging grandkids.

We can optimize for convenience for frail elderly. Sure, stay in your car from home, back to home, no walking. Can we help people avoid healthcare settings? Sure.

We can optimize for speed: in which case, bring more vaccinators, and rent a second mega-tent. There is room in this massive parking lot for more staff, we can create more lanes and instead of 32 at a time, we could do 48 cars or more. 20,000 per weekend is entirely conceivable, if vaccine supply were up to it (not yet).

Or, we can optimize for lower cost. With our original full teams in the early weeks, we overstaffed and calculated a per-vaccine operating cost in the mid $20’s. Of course, the vaccine itself, is free to us and patients, paid for by the feds. But, tents, staff, project managers, coordinators with police, state, county and city government, vaccinators, training team, pharmacy team, coolers and vaccine supply chain management, traffic tents, snow removal, medical observation team, volunteer-coordinating managers, paramedics, command center coordinators, walkie-talkies, workstations on wheels, smartphone devices, wifi repeaters, cellular repeaters, scheduling of appointments, design of vaccine clinics… pretty soon it is a big operation. After a couple days, and constant re-design, we were able to trim operations down into the $17 range.

6: Optimize Health System Vaccination plan

First Covid Mass Vaccine design, last month, at Coors Field, Denver

Vaccinating patients on-site at University of Colorado Hospital, Bruce Schroeffel Auditorium

Outdoor vaccine guy vs Indoor vaccine guy

AND THEN. We compare our Mass Vaccine efforts to our ongoing (but less splashy) vaccine clinics in 10 facilities across UCHealth, spread across the entire state of Colorado, at even lower per-vaccine cost, with the capability of 5,000 to 10,000 per day. We are hiring permanent staff to run these vaccine clinics and stop borrowing from clinical teams across our system, as we think we will be doing this for quite some time.

Volunteers?

It is gratifying that we have lots of folks (many retired) willing to volunteer their time. The challenge with accepting this help is: it can be more expensive to run a scheduling calendar and training for hundreds (?thousands) of part-time (or one-time) volunteers than it is to have a reliable, skilled steady crew to take care of business. For the rare volunteer who COULD come regularly (for 8 or 10 hour shifts!) (for months!), that would be a blessing. And, as this vaccine saga goes on, we may indeed need more help.

Pop-up Outreach Clinics for the medically Under-served

Another effort I’m grateful for, are our Pop-Up vaccine clinics. We are taking our show on the road to multiple community centers and churches in medically under-served neighborhoods, where leaders are helping us schedule thousands of vaccination appointments among their neighbors. I’m heading to several in the coming weeks. (stand by for more posts from the front lines!)

UCHealth has given 270,000 vaccines, about 20% of Colorado’s total to date.

Yup, you read that right.

From this graph, you see our green Mass Vaccination events occurring on 2 weekends. Dark blue is University Hospital with over 13,000 vaccines given per week, and our other regions similarly. Light blue is South region, Purple is North region. Red includes our small hospital and outreach clinics at about 10,000 a week. Again, limited by supply.

7: Optimize National Vaccination

A rising tide lifts all boats.

For those interested, UCHealth has published a playbook for other organizations: https://www.uchealth.org/covid-19-mass-vaccination-planning/ with lots more details.

And Finally: a SNAFU Tent Vaccine Dance?

Is this real? Apparently, yes. Dr. Jonathan Pell and our elite crew of SNAFU tent staffers put together a dance invitation for upcoming cars.

I was surprised to find out how many younger colleagues had never heard of the term SNAFU.

The good news? Our process worked so well, the SNAFU team did not have much to do, a few cars here and there during the day. So much time, in fact, that they came up with their own DANCE.

I have no words.

CMIO’s take? How to get better in Seven Different Ways. Let’s go!

Author: CT Lin

CMIO, UCHealth (Colorado); Professor, University of Colorado School of Medicine

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