Local costs of vaccine clinics across Charlottesville and Albemarle County are shaping up to be relatively low.
The Blue Ridge Health District began vaccinations in late December and now more than 160,000 doses have been administered by the district, hospitals, pharmacies and doctors across the region.
Officials point to federal dollars, volunteers, community partnerships and donors as factors limiting the cost to local taxpayers.
“Local dollars, from the health department perspective, spent on the pandemic are pretty minimal at this point, and really the flexibility came with federal dollars pouring into states and localities to be able to build capacity to respond in each phase of the pandemic,” said Ryan McKay, the COVID-19 incident commander for the health district.
BRHD began getting funds in October and November for vaccine site materials and cold storage, and has purchased items such as stanchions, tables, chairs and a truck to tow a trailer.
“There are not local dollars, or state dollars really, going towards it, which does give us a lot of flexibility in terms of what we purchase and how much,” McKay said. “Sometimes we still have to go through the state procurement process, and it takes a little bit more time.”
The largest costs — which McKay did not yet have dollar figures for — have been for staffing. During the pandemic, the health district’s headcount has gone from 93 full-time employees to more than 220 people working on coronavirus response or other health district operations.
Between 50 and 60 people were hired to support the vaccination campaign alone, he said, including three people for general site coordination and 25 nurses performing vaccinations. They’ve also expanded call centers specific to the vaccine rollout, and added support and data management staff. In addition, they shifted some of the contact tracers and case investigators who were already on board to work on the vaccine efforts.
“It’s a really significant increase in our staff, and we even hired a full-time person to help with just the hiring and recruitment process because the HR analyst couldn’t do all that on their own,” McKay said.
BRHD opened its first clinic in the former Kmart on Hydraulic Road at the end of December. McKay said the health district was paying for items like propane to run the heaters, and some services such as portable wash stations and toilets. Red Light Management and the Bama Works Fund covered most of the costs.
At the end of January, BRHD partnered with the University of Virginia Medical Center to open a vaccination clinic in the former Big Lots in Seminole Square. Great Eastern Management Co., which owns the shopping center, provided the space.
Last month, the health district moved its Kmart clinic to the former JC Penney store at Fashion Square mall. Albemarle County currently has $800,000 budgeted for the cost of the lease for the site, which came from a reserve created when the county used federal Coronavirus Relief Fund money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act of 2020 to reimburse county public safety pay.
“At this point, it’s not known how long that site will need to be in operation, but certainly we want to make sure that we have resources identified to keep it in operation for as long as it needs to be,” county spokeswoman Emily Kilroy said.
Kilroy said the cost per month is $7,500 and that the lease runs through June 30 and it renews on a month-to-month basis.
Albemarle is planning to apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Public Assistance Program, and county staffers are working to prepare for the first of what will likely be several reimbursement applications under the program.
Sonny Saxton, executive director for the Charlottesville-UVa-Albemarle Emergency Communications Center, said that from January through March 31, the regional Emergency Operations Center has spent just under $25,000, which doesn’t include most of the labor.
“I bet if we were to categorize all the labor, and we took donated hours, as well as actual paid hours from the many community organizations involved, of course, we’d be over that,” he said. “I don’t know, it may take us months or years to identify those costs, if ever, but it’s pretty amazing.”
Saxton said the EOC had “tremendous support” from community and partner agencies while running vaccination clinics at Charlottesville High School and Monticello High School.
“The city and county schools themselves lent us Chromebooks,” he said. “They lent us anything and everything — stanchions, pipe and drape. … The UVa Medical Center lent us wheelchairs, Albemarle County Fire and Rescue gave us golf carts and Gators to help people with mobility issues to get inside the building from the parking lot. So, ultimately, we were able to save thousands of dollars in our direct costs.”
The UVa Medical Center has had some of the highest known costs so far, as it has helped to administer more than 25,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses at the Seminole Square vaccine clinic and a total of more than 40,000 doses across the region when including other vaccination sites.
“To date, UVa’s direct expenses to support these operations — including staffing and medical supplies — are estimated at $1.2 million,” said UVa Health spokesman Eric Swensen.
He said much of the staffing was not new hires — existing Medical Center staff have taken additional shifts to support the effort.