Pipkin business up, no-appointment spontaneity part of it

By , Daily Memphian Updated: April 13, 2021 2:01 PM CT | Published: April 13, 2021 4:00 AM CT

In one week, Pipkin has gone from giving 15% of the doses among city-run vaccination sites to 29% of 35,343 doses given in seven days last week.


No appointment needed 2-7 p.m. at Pipkin

That feels like quite a success to Darrell Habisch, a Minnesotan, who has served FEMA in countless disasters over 11 years.

“This is a disaster, and it has rolled out across the country,” he said.

“We are working very closely with the City of Memphis, who have done an outstanding job. They are awesome. The City of Memphis is in charge. We support them. The Department of Defense supports them. That’s really what we’re here for.”

Wednesday, for the first time, Pipkin will be open all day to people who do not have appointments.

When city Chief Operating Officer Doug McGowen decided to test run no-appointment evening hours last week, the results were more than gratifying, Habisch said.

“The numbers went up.”

Monday, April 12, the hours changed to 2-7 p.m., a big enough window to catch people running errands and heading home from work.

Those accounting for the rise in numbers are everyday people who wanted to get shots for every reason under the sun, but didn’t want to navigate the appointment portal. Or they wanted to get in line on their time.

Ed Linder is one. He breezed through the whole process in less than 20 minutes Monday.

“For me, the appointment thing was hard,” he said.

Military brings precision, discipline to Pipkin vaccinations

Nancy Cherry, 66, got her first dose Monday, like she had intended to do since she became eligible. But hadn’t.

“I heard about it on TV news today. You don’t have to worry about the appointment; you just come through. So, we just came straight through,” she said.

Jacqueline Gonzalez, 39, became the first in her home to get the shot, with little support from anyone else, she said.

“My husband said, ‘Don’t get it; everything will be fine.’

“‘Yes,’ I said, ‘But, you don’t smoke.’”

Gonzalez is also diabetic.

“I am high-risk. I need it.”

Her friends in the Hispanic community have not been vaccinated.

“They are scared. They think they may get sick. They are going to have to try it like me,” she said.

The city also changed the operating hours to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Several hundred people rolled through before heading to work on Monday morning, Habisch said.

“We’re trying to make it as convenient as possible. There may be other clinics or pop-up sites that may be more convenient for them, and they can always check that at Covid19.MemphisTN.gov.” 

Habisch, who is away from his family in Minnesota for more than a month, completely understands if other sites are more convenient. But his advice on a sunny day in Memphis is not to wait weeks for a pop-up to come to a site near you.

Military brings precision, discipline to Pipkin vaccinations

“Why wait? It’s here, right now. And this is our major push, meaning our community — Memphis, Shelby County, your church and your neighbors. This is our push together to get to community immunity, that herd immunity,” he said.

Habisch is a reservist on call-up duty to run the FEMA public information needs at Pipkin, which means producing a series of reports for the main office in Washington and in general being a cheerleader for the work.

Pipkin is one of 11 centers around the nation where FEMA and the Department of Defense are adding boots on the ground and vaccine to city vaccination sites.

Monday, the Minnesotan described April temperatures in the low 80s as “blistering” from the shade of young oak on Tiger Lane, where he was standing to protect the top of his head, which he sunburned over the weekend while on duty.

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Habisch also has a hankering for Memphis barbecue, and he hasn’t had any — not even a whiff — since he landed on the ground here last Tuesday.

He knows what he’s missing. He once lived here.

“Doggone it, we’ve just been working too much,” he said.

“When we come to work in a FEMA sense, we don’t have time to see the wonderful parts of the city, because as you know, we’re open seven days a week, 12 hours a day. That’s what we do.”

For now, he’s content to see Memphis in the faces of the people rolling through the four-lane Pipkin installation.

“We certainly see the people and how they’re concerned about each other. Some people had to think about getting a shot, and they made the decision to get it. And then others are just so excited,” he said.

Pipkin has capacity to give more than 3,000 shots a day. Any adult 16 and older qualifies.

“There have been a number of students who have actually walked over here from Christian Brothers University and kind of surprised us,” Habisch said.

“I was like, ‘Oh, that’s perfect. Come on in.’

“And you know what? People who are taking Uber or taxis have come over, and we’ve helped them.”


Darrell Habisch FEMA Pipkin Nancy Cherry
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 business news and features for The Daily Memphian.