WINONA – The City of Winona in partnership with Tyler Holmes Memorial Hospital is bringing the COVID-19 vaccination to Montgomery and Carroll counties and the surrounding areas.
On May 11, a team of volunteers, under the oversight of Tyler Holmes and the Mississippi Department of Health, will be providing the COVID-19 vaccine to the public at the Montgomery County Coliseum. Drive-thru appointments, beginning at 9 a.m., must be made through the Mississippi Department of Health website for the 200 first-shot doses available on that day, with the second dose being administered on June 8.
Appointments will be available on the Mississippi Department of Health website beginning at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, April 20 at https://covidvaccine.umc.edu/.
For those who need help in making a vaccine appointment after April 20, the clerks at Winona City Hall will be available over the phone at 662-283-1232 to assist.
Also, transportation will be available to people in Carroll and Montgomery counties if needed. After making a vaccine appointment on the Mississippi Department of Health website, those needing a ride can call 283-2009 to arrange transportation.
Initially, Tyler Holmes Memorial Hospital was told it would not be facilitating the vaccine through the Mississippi Department of Health. However, Winona Mayor Jerry Flowers corresponded with Governor Tate Reeves, the Mississippi Department of Health, and Congressman Benny Thompson about the importance of having the vaccine available in Winona to accommodate local residents who did not have the means to travel for the vaccination.
“This places a hardship on our citizens as we continue to fight this pandemic,” Flowers informed Reeves in a letter on March 4. “I am pleading for your help in assisting the citizens here in Winona and Montgomery County in having a reasonable and convenient opportunity to get the vaccine.”
After discussing the pandemic and vaccine opportunities with local resident, John Paul Davis, Flowers said he spoke to Dr. Keith Rushing, a physician with Tyler Holmes Memorial Hospital, about the hospital not being selected in the past to administer the vaccine, and he decided to reach out to the state and national leaders for help.
Governor Tate Reeves responded by having Jim Craig, Senior Deputy and Director, Office of Health Protection for the Mississippi Department of Health, contact Flowers. After a long discussion with Craig, Flowers and Rushing began to develop a plan to effectively provide the vaccine locally, and that involves many volunteers throughout the community.
Rushing recruited two retired nurses from Tyler Holmes Memorial Hospital, Angelyn McCaulla and Susan Robertson, to head a vaccine committee consisting of Rushing, Flowers (traffic and security), Tyler Holmes Administrator Cori Bailey, Tyler Holmes Director of Clinics Kim Timbs, retired Regional Director of the Mississippi State Department of Health Denise Castle (vaccine administration), Winona Alderwoman Sarah Minnieweather (information distribution), Winona Alderman Kelvin Winbush (patient discharge), retired Montgomery County Chancery Clerk Tee Golding (transportation), MedStat’s Raymond Liberto (emergency services), and Winona Baptist Church Pastor Mark Williamson (prayer chain). Montgomery County Economic Development Director Sue Stidham will also be volunteering.
Since the committee’s inception, the logistics for administering mass vaccines in an effective, drive-thru capacity has come to fruition, and the first day of vaccines has been scheduled.
“I think this is awesome that Winona has been given the ability to offer such an important service to our citizens to combat this COVID-19 virus,” Flowers said. “This could not have taken place without the help of Tyler Holmes Memorial Hospital and the Winona Board of Aldermen, especially David Ware, Kelvin Winbush, and Sarah Minnieweather, who have helped from the start to make this a reality. I’d like to thank Montgomery County for allowing us to use the coliseum, and a special thanks to Coliseum Director Teresa Sproles for her assistance in scheduling and transportation.”
McCaulla, who retired from Tyler Holmes last year after 45 years of service, said when Rushing asked her to help chair the committee, she responded as she always has.
“As long as I have worked with Dr. Rushing, for all those years, I’ve never told him no,” she said. “I’ve always done everything in my power to make sure I did what he needed.”
However, McCaulla said after studying the data about the vaccine and administering it, she realized the gravity of the job before her. She and Flowers met with Major Kyle Waller of the Mississippi National Guard to discuss the proper logistics to provide the vaccine in a drive-thru capacity.
“Before I met with Major Waller, I began reading all the data and I didn’t know what I’d gotten myself into and covered it in prayer,” McCaulla said. “The entire team is covered in prayer, and I’m excited to work with every one of them. It is all working out, and it is not an easy project. It is a complicated process.”
As a longtime physician in his native community, Rushing is urging local residents to take advantage of the opportunity to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
“To get herd immunity here locally, we need to get as many people vaccinated as possible,” Rushing said.
This is not the first time McCaulla, Robertson, and Rushing have provided healthcare on a large scale outside of the traditional setting. The three were part of a team from First Baptist Church of Winona that went on a medical mission trip to Costa Rica through First Baptist Church of Winona. There they provided general medical care for hundreds of people.
“Nursing has never been a job for me,” she said. “It was a calling. It was a calling to give back to the community, and it was why I was at Tyler Holmes for so long. I saw [the COVID-19 vaccine committee] as another calling, and everything is just falling into place. I feel like it is going to bless me more than I can imagine.”
Flowers said the goal is that vaccines will be administered in Winona several times, and if that happens dozens of volunteers will be needed to make that happen.
“I think this is really great for the citizens of Winona, Montgomery and Carroll counties, but we have got to work together as a team because this is going to take a lot of hard work from a lot of people. I think this will unify Winona and the surrounding area and prove that we are a loving and caring community. I am proud to say I am the mayor of Winona.”
To serve as a volunteer, contact Winona City Hall at 662-283-1232.