When Washington Health System ramped up its COVID-19 vaccination rollout, it turned to retired nurses, doctors and other health care workers to help dole out doses at its mass vaccination sites.

And one of the first in line to help was Dr. Nicholas Fuerst, who retired from family medicine practice in 2019, after a 45-year career.

“I retired thinking the world was in good shape. Six months later, the pandemic struck. I had an empty sense that I’d abandoned my profession, inadvertently, at a time when I was needed,” said Fuerst.

In order to speed up the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, the Department of Health and Human Services in January amended its rules to allow retired health professionals to administer the shots.

Throughout the region, former health care workers have stepped forward to serve their communities, willing to do any work needed to help people get vaccinated.

“In December, I was hearing in the news media that retired doctors and nurses were being recruited, and I thought maybe I could contribute in some way,” said Fuerst. “It led me to call the medical staff at Washington Hospital, and I asked, ‘Do you need a warm body to help? I’ll do anything to help the cause.’”

At WHS, nearly 20 retired doctors and nurses are volunteering at the health system’s three mass vaccination clinics – at WHS Greene, in Peters Township, and at Washington Crown Center Mall.

They administer the vaccine, direct people pre- and post-vaccination, and make sure they feel OK immediately after getting the shot.

“In my retirement, I’ve taken on many gratifying volunteer activities in my church and community, and this has been a very gratifying volunteer experience,” said Fuerst. “There’s a real sense of teamwork.”

Two days a week, Fuerst works a four-hour shift at WHS’s mass vaccination clinic at Washington Crown Center.

On some days, he administers the vaccine; on others, he keeps watch over people who have gotten the vaccine, chatting with them while they sit in the waiting area for 15 minutes before they leave the site.

Dana Stainbrook, a retired nurse, was happy to put on her scrubs again and, like Fuerst, was excited about the chance to be of service.

Stainbrook, who retired in November after working as a nurse for 45 years at WHS – including the last 20 years as a diabetes educator – volunteers three days a week.

Stainbrook prepares vaccine doses and administers them.

“This, without question, is one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my 45 years,” said Stainbrook. “Almost without exception, people thank you. Everyone is so appreciative and grateful. People say the feel like they’ve won the lottery, or they say, ‘I feel like I can breathe again’ or ‘I can see my grandkids again, I can hug my grandkids again.’”

Stainbrook said the retired health workers who work at the vaccine clinics make it possible for WHS doctors and nurses to do their jobs, including treating COVID patients, without being pulled to handle COVID vaccinations.

WHS is currently providing the largest quantity of COVID-19 vaccines in Washington and Greene counties.

Fuerst said patients have expressed relief at getting their vaccinations.

“By the time they’re coming through for their second vaccine, they realize they’re as fully protected as science can make them,” said Fuerst. “I love taking part in this clinic, and I will continue doing this until there is no need for a mass vaccination clinic during a pandemic.”

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