HELENA — A group of senior medical professionals in Lewis and Clark County have stepped out of retirement to help with COVID-19 vaccinations and ease some of the burden on front-line medical workers.
For more than three decades Don Skillman, MD, worked as an infectious disease doctor in the military and with St. Peter’s Health before retiring. When the pandemic hit he said he knew he wanted to help.
“It’s a big deal and I want to do my part to help get rid of this thing,” said Skillman.
In January, the Biden administration amended the federal government's rules on who could administer COVID-19 vaccines to allow doctors and nurses that recently retired or are inactive to administer doses.
The move was intended to increase the number of individuals that are able to give doses while limiting strain on health care systems.
Skillman has been giving vaccinations, interviewing recipients and monitoring people for any potential serious reaction to the vaccine.
“It feels great to be able to help,” said Skillman. “I feel like I’m being useful again to my community. Helping my city, my people, my friends and family get back to a more normal life.”
Former family practice doctor Maggie Stockwell, MD, said she felt an urge to do something to help after seeing and hearing about what her former colleagues were going through.
“It’s frustrating to be home and seeing things going on and talking to people I know that are still working and not to be able to do anything,” explained Stockwell. “It felt really good to be here giving vaccinations.”
Stockwell and Skillman say honestly it’s been fun being able to vaccinate a community they’ve served over the years.
“It’s very gratifying and I’ll see former patients coming through, or neighbors, or friends or people from church,” said Stockwell. “It's just having a two minute chat while you’re doing the shot, and everybody is so grateful and so happy.”
“It’s been awesome,” said retired registered nurse Diane Fetzner. “People are so excited to get their first and second doses, and I am too! It’s been wonderful. It’s been one of the best things in my career.”
Fetzner said she knew she had to help after she had taken her own father to the fairgrounds for his COVID-19 vaccination.
“I wanted to do it, be here and be part of it,” said Fetzner. “Health care providers are over taxed right now with what’s going on and we need to come and do our part to help them, because they’ve been amazing through this whole thing.”
As of Feb. 24, Lewis and Clark County have administered more than 16,000 COVID-19 doses, with more than 5,350 individuals now fully vaccinated.
Vaccine clinic organizers say the retired medical personnel have played a critical role in helping the community respond to the pandemic; along with all the volunteers and staff from medical organizations across the community that have helped out.