When the COVID-19 pandemic began to unleash its wrath on the U.S. population, the race was on to develop and distribute vaccines to battle this scourge as quickly and safely as possible. Importantly, getting those vaccines into the arms of Americans was and remains a challenge. The year 2020 and early 2021 have been rife with stories about citizens having difficulty scheduling an appointment and then getting the vaccine administered. In some places, the situation was often described as chaotic.
South Dakota has fared much better. In fact, as of March 12th, Center for Disease Control data published in the New York Times indicated the state was a leader in getting citizens vaccinated for COVID. Just over one out of every four South Dakotans (26%) had received at least one dose. Only Connecticut, New Mexico and Alaska had higher figures.
Of course, differences from state to state are caused by a wide range of circumstances, but aspect of the success realized by South Dakota has been due to the smooth rollout of vaccinations coordinated by the Veterans Administration. Retired Air Force Colonel Jim Cowan of Rapid City can attest to the efficiency and smooth rollout of the vaccine through the VA Black Hills Health Care System.
“It was really masterful planning and implementation of the drive-through COVID inoculation program.” That was the description rendered by Cowan after getting his inoculation VA Black Hills Health Care. He was so impressed by that experience that he shared the story with his colleagues in the Black Hills Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America. Chapter Board members and Past Presidents of the chapter concurred and quickly adopted Cowan's suggestion that Black Hills MOAA create and present to VA Black Hills Health Care a Certificate of Appreciation for the outstanding work performed by the good people at VA Black Hills.
To date, more than 6,000 veterans have been vaccinated by VA Black Hills Health Care at their clinics at Fort Meade, Hot Springs, and Rapid City.
VA Black Hills spokesperson Terese Forbes has noted that "The drive-through vaccinations of our priority group – those 75 years of age and older – was particularly effective in the beginning."
It allowed us to avoid close proximity among the many people arriving for shots and VA staff. It was efficient and fast. Those who had drivers could quickly get the shot and documentation without ever having to leave their cars."
The history of VA Black Hills Health Care began at Fort Meade, South Dakota back in 1946, when the Department of the Army transferred the fort to the Veterans Administration. But the old fort had provided "doctoring" reaching back to its inception in 1878, when Fort Meade was created to protect settlements in the northern Black Hills.
Some 1,100 employees of VA Black Hills Health Care System serve veterans not only across western South Dakota, but in wide portions of Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota. It provides primary and secondary medical and surgical care, residential rehabilitation treatment program services, extended nursing home care, and tertiary psychiatric inpatient services for veterans. Care is delivered by VA Medical Centers at Fort Meade and Hot Springs. Community-Based Operating Clinics – some operating on a contractual basis with private health providers – are also located in Gordon and Scottsbluff, Nebraska; Newcastle, Wyoming; as well as McLaughlin, Mission, Pierre, Pine Ridge, Rapid City, and Winner, South Dakota.
Vaccinations for COVID-19 are but one aspect of the important services that have been rendered by VA Black Hills over its 75 years of service to veterans living throughout this region. As noted in the Certificate of Appreciation presented to VA Black Hills Health Care System by MOAA Black Hills Chapter "...on behalf of all the Veterans you serve, we convey our heartfelt appreciation and gratitude for the expert, professional and compassionate care you provide us year after year ...."