City will now manage Pipkin; other changes being implemented

By , Daily Memphian Updated: February 16, 2021 6:46 AM CT | Published: February 15, 2021 2:21 PM CT

The City of Memphis will run the Pipkin Building coronavirus vaccination site, starting at the end of the week.

The site manager, which has been a Shelby County Health Department employee, is also being changed after people waited hours in line over the weekend and still did not get shots.

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“We have invited the City of Memphis to manage the logistics of Pipkin and operate as the new site manager,” said Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris.

“We think that bodes for success. The City of Memphis brings a strong law enforcement presence and traffic-control presence. They have seen success at the Appling site, and they are technically the owners of the property,” Harris said.

The change, he said, will help address the issues at Pipkin, namely that people have been allowed to get in line without appointments and arrive earlier than their appointed time, creating unmanageable lines and traffic.

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“As we have been for nearly a year now, the city of Memphis continues to stand ready to help in the fight against this virus in any way we can,” Mayor Jim Strickland said. “Stepping in to help the Shelby County Health Department at the Pipkin Building vaccination site is just another example of that.

“We’ve been successfully operating the Appling vaccination site for few weeks now, and we’ll implement the same strategy at Pipkin.”

Tiffany Wright, an administrator at University Clinical Health, is in charge of running the Appling station.

Besides the staff on site, “we have a great outpouring of support from our volunteers. That makes us very successful. We outline the roles to ensure efficiency whether with staff or volunteers, and we do an orientation every morning and afternoon, which helps us quickly adapt to whatever circumstance or issue may be present,” she said.

“The only time we turn people away is if they have scheduled their second dose incorrectly.”

Pipkin can administer about 1,400 shots a day. At Appling, the goal is 1,000 day, but it has exceeded 1,200.

The Appling location, co-managed by the city and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, has not had the inefficiencies or bad press that have stymied Pipkin. An appointment at Pipkin can mean four- or five-hour waits with limited toilets and information and in the end, being turned away.

Frustration mounts among Memphians seeking second dose of COVID-19 vaccines

Sidney Hickey and her husband, David, had appointments Saturday afternoon. They arrived an hour early as suggested and had been in line 3.5 hours when a sheriff’s deputy announced on a loudspeaker that the site was running low on Moderna and that people could try coming back Sunday.

“I have never seen anything so poorly organized in my entire life,” Hickey said. “No one asked to see our appointment sheet to see what time our appointment was.”

And what further annoyed her is that the line did not move for an hour before they were told the Moderna doses were gone, shortly after 6 p.m.

“The communication is horrible. They should have let us know when they knew they running low. That is how you keep people from being angry.”

Susan Cushman, 69, got a text message that more vaccine was available Sunday at Pipkin through the Health Department’s Vax Queue prompt. She arrived as directed, was sent to a side parking lot and minutes later was told to leave.

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“I was told by a FEMA employee that I could not receive my vaccine. I showed him my text from the Shelby County Health Department, and he said that didn’t matter. He said they were only vaccinating people with appointments. I was turned away.”

Weather interfered with wi-fi connections at Pipkin over the weekend, Alisa Haushalter, Health Department director said, which meant people using handheld devices could not confirm Vax Queue notifications.

“I am not aware of how many people were turned away,” she said. “I know I did not turn anyone away.

“This is like building a ship while at sea. There’s a lot of things that are going on at the same time, and we want to be able to use technology … unfortunately, sometimes the connectivity is problematic.”

Cushman knows of at least one man in his 30s who got a vaccine Sunday without an appointment because when the Vax Queue notices began going out, word traveled quickly that vaccine was available. He got in line.

“The best comment I have seen on Facebook is the people working for the Health Department worked for a private corporation, they would all be fired,” Cushman said.

Hickey expects having one person in charge will help.

“We both know that one there are too many chiefs, no one knows which one to go with a problem.”

Vaccine volunteers talk about why and what they do

Since it opened in mid-January, Pipkin has been operated by a combination of agencies, including the Health Department, the Sheriff’s Department and groups, such as Meritan, which organized, recruited and filled volunteer slots.

The Health Department will still be managing the vaccinations but the support will be provided by the city.

To further streamline all vaccine sites, the mangers of each of the current five vaccination sites will meet each week “for shared learning,” Harris said and to coordinate dose inventory.

One of the key players will be Brenda Jones, county director of Homeland Security, whom Harris touted for her experience with inter-agency collaborations. Jones also had a career in the Memphis Police Department.

“So, we’re pleased that she’ll be executing on this new role, and we think that there is a lot of promise for all of us to collaborate, to figure out best practices for dose delivery, and to share information about how our inventory looks,” Harris said.

When asked what he could do to stop the frustration, Harris said, “As I said, we made a complete change.”

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Liz Dayton, associate director of clinical services at Meritan, volunteered with a team from the company at Sycamore View and Pipkin and saw the inner workings of both.

“All I can say is I have not directly worked with the City of Memphis. I have observed and heard about how wonderful Appling is going,” she said. 

“I don’t know the direct ins and outs of how they are able to have Appling running so smoothly, but we cannot wait to help out in any way we are asked.

“The thing is, this a huge undertaking, no matter who is in charge of it. It’s enormous, and it’s so important for our community. We want whoever is in charge to be a success and not have kudos over the other one,” Dayton said.

“We want vaccine going into arms and elders not waiting in cars. That is our goal.”

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Pipkin Building Memphis vaccine Shelby County Health Department Liz Dayton Sidney Hickey Susan Cushman Alisa Haushalter Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris
Jane Roberts

Jane Roberts

Longtime journalist Jane Roberts is a Minnesotan by birth and a Memphian by choice. She's lived and reported in the city more than two decades. She covers healthcare and higher education for The Daily Memphian.


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