Our lives have been turned upside down in so many ways over the last year or so. No more so than those working in healthcare. We reached out to talk to a couple of them to mark International Nurses Day this week. What we got instead was fantastic insight into a wonderful group of people who changed their lives and are working tirelessly to allow us all to return to a 'normal' way of life.
So, how many people does it take to run a vaccination centre? The answer to this question reaches far beyond the handful of people you meet when your appointment comes around. From the pharmacists and the delivery drivers to the porters and reception team, there are a lot of people who have been called upon from the community to create the temporary vaccination centre at Beau Sejour. Many of those you will never see, such as the administrators booking appointments and organising rotas (all of which needs IT support) and some you will be lucky to meet, such as the team working every day on the ground. That’s a lot of people working together for our community.
We wanted to meet some of the people behind these roles, to find out what motivates them and hear how life has been for them over the past year or so. And of course, we also wanted to hear some of the stories you wouldn't usually hear, from the amusing to the real. So here it is, our list of the many faces of Guernsey's Covid Vaccination Centre (CVC).
Trevor is the Vaccination Programme Co-ordinator, responsible for recruitment, rotas and vaccination schedules... and importantly, he’s the man who makes sure everyone gets paid for their shift! He works six days a week at the centre. “Some days we are short of colleagues, some days short of vaccines, other days we can be short of patience or breath simply due to the pace of change and progress.” Despite this, Trevor says he enjoys the varied role, and being part of the process of returning the island to ‘a new normal’.
Born in Portadown in Northern Ireland, he first came to Guernsey as a student in 1980 and had "the best summer of my life” so he decided to eventually settle here with his wife and their three children. Covid-19 has brought a great deal of change into Trevor’s life, as has been the case for many of us. One positive for him has been a greater resolve to live a more self-sufficient life with a smaller ecological footprint, so in his downtime he has been planting and harvesting food for the first time, which has brought him great joy.
Trevor is full of praise for the team he works with, and indeed the community he serves: “It has been said that we are at our best when things are at their worst and over the past year I have witnessed so many examples of caring and generosity. From flower bouquets gifted to the CVC on Valentines Day, chocolate eggs at Easter and ‘thank you’ items such as handmade jewellery and home bakes - that it is truly humbling.” You can hear more from Trevor here.
Staff nurse Kaz is a proud “Guernsey girl” who loves her job and she is extremely proud of her island’s response to the pandemic. Her 'real' day job is at the PEH Day Patient Unit, but having worked with the screening team during the second wave of COVID she was keen to carry on providing support, so she put herself forward to work as a Vaccinator at the centre. She is very much aware of the mental health challenges the community has faced, and will always take the time to reassure people who are anxious when they come through the doors of the CVC.
Kaz reminds us that, yes, we are fortunate and have handled the pandemic well here in Guernsey, but: “I still often think that, despite being extremely lucky, there were many families grieving, and people couldn’t be supported in the usual way. Nurses and carers were absolutely shattered from wearing the PPE and caring for these patients and residents, and we must never forget these people.”
On a personal note, the experience has helped bring a new sense of perspective: “I don't stress about things in the way I used too, this has taught us all how life is so precious and how truly vulnerable we really are. Let's just enjoy our lives.” You can find out more from Karen here.
His role leading the reception team at the CVC often means working from 9am until 7pm, six days a week, but Mark is driven to do this work for very personal reasons: “Back in March/April 2020, Covid tore through my family in just about every conceivable way, from physically to medically to financially to mentally. It has taken a very long time to start to find a way back and working here at the vaccination centre, it has become my personal mission to help stop it affecting other people’s families like it did mine.”
Guernseyman Mark is very proud of what his island home has been able to achieve over the past year. Like many, Mark and his wife have family and friends around the globe who they miss terribly, but they appreciate that the quality of life we have here in Guernsey is something that many other countries can only dream of, and there is no where else he would rather be: “The day after we were told that we were Covid negative, my wife and I took our young children down to Pembroke beach and we walked along the water’s edge in the late April sunshine. This was the first time in nearly a month that we had left our house, and being able to have a beautiful beach so close makes Guernsey extremely special.”
Drawing on his experiences, Mark and his team always try to offer support and reassurance to clients passing through the centre, “And of course patients that come through with assistance dogs are always our favourites, we all love dogs!” Read more of Mark's story here.
Originally from Jersey, Charlotte came to Guernsey two years ago to be with her partner. Like many of us, she has found it difficult not being able to see her family, but she feels very proud to be part of a community which has handled the pandemic so well and she “wouldn’t have wanted to experience this last year anywhere else”. Charlotte especially loves all of the events we have been able to put on here in Guernsey, as well having the rest of the Bailiwick just a short boat trip away.
Charlotte was deployed from the States Waste & Recycling team and she is currently a supervisor in the Contact Centre, managing a team of twelve call handlers who book all of the vaccination appointments. She tells us that no two shifts are ever the same and the team deals with a range of queries from “I’m stuck in another country, please can you ship me my vaccine?” to “Can I have the vaccine in my buttocks instead of my arm?” Umm, we’re guessing the answer to that was a polite, but firm 'No'?! See what else Charlotte told us here.
Before working at the community vaccination centre as a Porter, Matt was employed by Bailiwick Law Enforcement as a Police Officer, leading the self isolation enforcement team on secondment to the Guernsey Border Agency. Matt was born and raised in Guernsey and he is very proud of the community spirit that shines through on the island: “This has become even more clear with the #GuernseyTogether movement, ensuring the safety of our Islanders through a very difficult time… the willingness to help from so many Islanders when people are in a time of need.”
A typical shift for Matt starts off with one of the most important tasks of the day - ensuring that the kettles are boiled for when the medical and admin staff arrive in the morning! His day is spent managing the car park, providing escorts to those who need special assistance and ensuring the safety of everyone passing through… but it’s not all plain sailing. Matt and the team explain to everyone that they need to make their way through the car park, park their cars and then go up the ramp to Beau Sejour main entrance… however, on a few occasions drivers have assumed it’s similar to the drive-through testing facilities and have proceeded to drive up the pedestrian ramp! Oh dear! Matt did assure us that no accidents have occurred to date, and they are working hard to keep it that way! Hear more from Matt here.
Former midwife Rachel provides admin support for the vaccination team, and she combines this with her role as a Contact Tracer as and when she is needed. Rachel works remotely from home, which gives her the flexibility to liaise with the team at the centre and to keep in contact with the “long suffering vaccinators to either change, cancel or add them to shifts, sometimes at very short notice - the responses we receive from all of them couldn’t be more helpful and accommodating, despite most of them having full or part-time demanding roles”.
Although there is nowhere else in the world she would rather have been during the pandemic, there is another island this proud Guern holds very close to her heart. Mallorca is special to Rachel, not least because she rescued her 'amazing' dog from a shelter over there. She tells us playfully, “I better add that my daughters are also amazing in case they read this!” On a serious note, like many of us Rachel is looking forward to the restrictions being eased and eventually lifted so that she can get on with a “new normal” and travel again. “Firstly, to see my daughter in the UK who we haven’t seen for far too long.” We can relate to that! Read more of Rachel's story here.
With the logistics of running the vaccination programme, there was always going to be a need for extensive IT systems... cue Mark and the team at Agilisys. However as things have settled into a steady rhythm, Mark has largely returned to work on the States’ other large IT projects, telling us, “Despite perceptions to the contrary, working here is no less frantic than anywhere else - but being able to finish work and half an hour later being able to set off in my kayak is special and makes me appreciate the environment in which I live.”
Mark met his Guernsey wife when he was in the Royal Navy and she was in the UK training to be a nurse and they relocated to Guernsey in 1989 to get married and raise their family here. Being married to a nurse, Mark is understandably full of praise for the work our nurses do and the compassion they show: “An elderly lady attended the centre, accompanied by her partner and clearly in a confused and distressed state. The way the nurse spoke to her and dealt with her, with respect and care, was wonderful to see. The people on the front line often go unnoticed and must have all their own worries and issues to deal with, but they park these and focus on the patients like they don’t have a care in the world and deserve all the plaudits they receive.” Mark, we couldn't agree more. Hear more from Mark here.
Giving people injections isn’t something new for Karen. She works for local Children and Family services as the Lead Nurse for Immunisation, and she has been delivering the Covid vaccination programme from day one when the very first vaccines were given at the PEH. She has found the work very rewarding, but living in Guernsey has also been hard at times. However, she says has found pleasure in a more simple way of life and loves being able to get out every day and enjoy the fresh air with her dog Monty.
Through her work she is able to shine a light on the emotional side of things. "People attending the CVC have brought with them many different emotions. Some have come through the doors in celebration mode, glad its their turn! Others have been hugely emotional, some in tears of either relief, gladness about getting the vaccine or sadness about events during the pandemic."
Karen hopes to meet up with her three grown up children who live in England over the summer: "I am sure we will get to that point but until then I plan to keep vaccinating... we still have a job to finish!" We admire the dedication. Find out more from Karen here.
This article is dedicated to everyone working in healthcare at the moment, with a shout out to all of the nurses working on the ground in the community.
With special thanks to Consultant Nurse Specialist Patricia McDermott for all of her help with this article.
Imagery by Paul Chambers
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