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Rural Colorado Hospital Vaccinating Out-of-Towners In Between Community Members

HUGO, Colo., (CBS4) – Confusion and long waiting lists are leading some Denver metro area residents to look for vaccine appointments far from home. In rural Lincoln County, the public health director tells CBS4 clinics are frequently vaccinating about as many out-of-towners as county residents. The extra volume of patients comes as the county is rushing to vaccinate as many eligible community members as possible.

"We're not turning people away, but we're definitely trying to make sure that we're getting our Lincoln County residents taken care of," said Jobeth Mills, Director of Lincoln County Public Health.

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Of the 1,387 doses administered by the health department so far, just under half have gone to people from out of the county, Mills said. At a clinic on Friday, more than 60% of people who received vaccines were also from out of town.

"It's hard saying which direction they came exactly from, but we are seeing a lot of that uptake, and I know a lot of other smaller, rural counties are doing the same," Mills said.

According to Mills, social media groups searching out appointments are a big reason why so many have made the trip to receive their vaccine.

The county has also been quick to assist nearby communities. Recently the health department has offered vaccine appointments to people in Elbert County, Mills said.

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"Absolutely we want to get it for our county, but we have an ultimate goal as a state to try and get things back to normal," Mills said.

Lincoln Community Hospital has also vaccinated some people from other counties. According to Dr. John Fox, a physician at the facility, many of those out-of-town patients have received their shots at clinics held by the hospital in Kit Carson County, as well as Bennett, Byers, and Deer Trail.

"It's not an overwhelming number," Fox said. "They need vaccines too and if we've got it, we'll give it to them."

In the fall, the hospital weathered a rise in COVID cases among staff and community members. With only two active cases now, the focus has shifted to administering vaccines.

"We've been giving them just about as fast as we can get them," Fox said.

He says the hospital is utilizing everything from large events to mobile clinics to get people vaccinated. Hospital staff have also held clinics in assisted living facilities as well as workplaces.

Fox acknowledges some community members are still hesitant to get the vaccine. To combat that, he, and other hospital staff host Facebook live Q&As every other week and give presentations to community groups.

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"I think what people are looking for is honest information," Fox said. "Once they see the presentation, once they get the information they're looking for, get their questions answered, they're on board for the most part."

Fox estimates about 50% of eligible community members have received the vaccine so far. With Phase 1B.4 now underway, appointments will now be available to newly eligible people, as well as those already eligible. The only limiting factor will be the amount of vaccine allocated to the hospital, he says.

"We're using every tool we have available to us," he said. "If we got more vaccines, we'd give more shots."

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