Athol Senior Center at Lord Pond Plaza chosen for North Quabbin vax site

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 2/22/2021 3:03:45 PM
Modified: 2/22/2021 3:03:42 PM

ATHOL — Town Manager Shaun Suhoski has announced that the Vaccinate Athol Task Force, working in concert with Heywood Healthcare, has chosen the Athol Senior Center in Lord Pond Plaza as the site for a COVID-19 vaccination site.

Suhoski said the task force has been working for some weeks to find a location for the site which would be accessible to residents of Athol and North Quabbin — people who are currently facing long travel times to access the state’s mass vaccination sites.

“Essentially, we were looking to meet the need locally in a method that we could accomplish and that was feasible,” said Suhoski. “So, we’re not going to be Gillette Stadium or Fenway Park; we needed a site that was primarily accessible to our elderly population, to folks with mobility or transportation challenges, and that quickly lent itself to a suggestion that we look at the senior center.

“A lot of that programming — because of COVID — a lot of the senior center’s regular programming is on hold. So, we have a 3,000-square-foot facility that’s modern, it’s accessible, it has the infrastructure that we need; a large room that we can divide with a divider.”

Suhoski said many details for the operation are still being worked out, but the center seemed like a good choice for reasons other than those already mentioned.

“It’s big enough with plenty of parking. The Jersey barriers,” he said last Friday, “will be installed on Monday, I believe, by DPW. They’re already down there in the plaza standing by. We’ll have access for the elderly and those with mobility challenges.

“We were never going to be a major site,” Suhoski continued. “It’s very difficult to get access to the vaccine. So, we feel that our involvement, in partnership with the hospital, that this will be a great location for our region in this phase and as things evolve, as vaccine becomes more plentiful, there are other options that are just on the drawing board for Phase III, if needed, that would maybe accommodate a larger, more mobile population.

“We’re just trying to get vaccine and get our clinic up and running right now.”

The town manager said there may be an announcement regarding availability of vaccine sometime this week.

He said likelihood of setting up another location to serve residents when Phase III is announced is, to a large degree, out of Athol’s hands.

“It’s really driven by the state and the supply of vaccine,” he explained. “When the Commonwealth shut out local boards of health, that did create quite a stir.

“That’s not how it’s presented, of course; it’s presented as ‘let’s direct people to the mass vaccinations sites,’ which certainly has some logic. But it really left a gap in the equity for people in those communities that really have a population that’s remote — geographically remote, or economically, or mobility, or otherwise challenged with transportation.”

Suhoski went out of his way to credit local lawmakers with endeavoring to ensure the state meets the needs of the residents of the Athol-Gardner area.

“(Last) week, I was on a call with mayor of Gardner, other town administrators, and Rep. Whipps, Sen. Gobi, Rep. Zlotnik from Gardner, and Rep. Ferguson were all on this call. They are very actively engaged in trying to ensure the state does not leave out their districts and their population. I really want to thank them — they really do make a difference. And everybody in their own venue is doing the best they can.” Suhoski also credited Missy Eaton, Executive Director of the North Quabbin Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Chamber’s board of directors for their willingness to help out.

“They’ve been part of some of our planning meetings,” he said. “We’re able to use their storefront, which is not only next to the senior center, but it has an interior connection to the senior center. So, it can help us create a better flow, and a safer flow of traffic.

“So, logistically, we have all hands on deck.”

As far as nailing down a supply of vaccine, Suhoski said, “My sense is that, through our partnership with Heywood Healthcare and Athol Hospital — and this is subject to confirmation — they have the infrastructure to utilize the Pfizer vaccine, They can store it at the proper temperature.”

He also singled out Heywood Healthcare CEO Winn Brown and Athol Hospital COO Tina Griffin for their help.

“Tina is so busy at the Gardner clinic,” he said, “but she took us in, gave us a tour, showed us how the layout works, and have offered up the resources to help us with the flow of vaccine.”

Online registration for the Gardner site is available at: https://heywood.org/covid-19/covid19-vaccine. The call center is staffed Monday, Wednesday, and Friday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at 978-958-9057.

The Vaccinate Athol Task Force is led by Athol Emergency Management Director and Fire Chief Joseph Guarnera, Rebecca Bialecki, Ph.D., DPW Superintendent Dick Kilhart, Deputy Fire Chief Jeffrey Parker, Admin. Asst. Liz Bergquist, Athol Health Agent Deb Vondal, RS, Dr. Adam Darnobid, and Suhoski, with technical support from Athol Hospital COO Tina Griffin, NP.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com


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