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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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At least two community flu vaccine clinics canceled with no health officer at health district

UPDATED: Thu., Nov. 5, 2020

A box of influenza vaccine, Fluzone Quadrivalent 2020-21 Formula, made by Sanofi Pasteur Inc., is opened for use.  (Damian Dovarganes)
A box of influenza vaccine, Fluzone Quadrivalent 2020-21 Formula, made by Sanofi Pasteur Inc., is opened for use. (Damian Dovarganes)

Edie Rice-Sauer was looking forward to offering free flu vaccines to the women she serves at Transitions, which offers several housing options for the homeless.

Gonzaga University nursing students were scheduled to administer the vaccines with supervision by a registered nurse, and the Spokane Regional Health District was ready to provide the vaccines and supplies.

Then last Friday, the vaccine clinic was canceled amid the leadership vacuum and chaos at the health district.

Rice-Sauer, the executive director at Transitions, had given her program directors notice of the clinic and put up posters. The clinic was set for last Monday.

Last Friday, she received an email from the Gonzaga students organizing it that the health district had canceled.

“It was frustrating,” Rice-Sauer said.

Rice-Sauer learned of the canceled clinic just a day after health district Administrator Amelia Clark tried to fire Spokane County’s health officer, Dr. Bob Lutz.

The move – which culminated Thursday in the majority of board members voting to terminate Lutz – sent shockwaves through the community.

Transitions had planned another vaccine clinic for the Women’s Hearth, a downtown agency that helps homeless women, on Monday. The status of that clinic is in jeopardy due to changes in staffing at the health district.

With no health officer, the Spokane Regional Health District has canceled flu vaccine clinics in the last week. The health officer’s name is on a standing order that enables the nursing students (and a registered nurse supervising them) to vaccinate under the health district’s authority and the health officer’s medical license. The health district only provides the vaccines and supplies to supervised nursing students, however, and these types of vaccine clinics differ from vaccine events the district hosts itself.

After firing Lutz, the Board of Health voted to replace Lutz with an interim health officer, Dr. Francisco Velazquez, whom Commissioner Mary Kuney said could be in place as early as Saturday.

The clinic at Transitions is not the only one that was canceled this week. Dr. Monique De Nysschen, a professor in the Gonzaga nursing program, had a flu vaccine clinic scheduled with her students at Pope Francis Haven in Spokane Valley, a Catholic Charities housing community for families experiencing homelessness.

Her students were scheduled to get the vaccine supplies from the health district on Tuesday.

On Sunday, she received an email from the health district canceling the clinic, which noted changes made to the health officer position that affected the clinics.

“It was directly due to him being fired, resigned or whatever he is,” De Nysschen said, referring to the attempt to oust Lutza week ago.

The health district confirmed that some vaccine events were canceled this week but could not provide a firm number of how many. Other programs will continue, according to the health district.

“SRHD’s vaccination efforts, as well as all programs and services at the health district serving our community, are able to continue,” Kelli Hawkins, public information officer at the district, said in an email.

De Nysschen likes to offer flu vaccine clinics with her students each fall, and as a registered nurse she supervises them. She believes, based on the email she received from the health district, that all flu clinics that receive supplies from the health district, such as the one she was going to put on with her students, have been canceled this week.

“To my knowledge, in this circumstance, all flu clinics were canceled, not just the one at my site,” De Nysschen said.

De Nysschen is concerned about vulnerable residents not getting vaccinated for the flu this year. With COVID-19 in the community, health officials and doctors around the state have urged residents to get vaccines for the influenza this year to avoid a potential “twindemic” and crowding hospitals with flu and COVID-19 patients.

“The ramifications affect the whole community in an instant,” De Nysschen said.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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