By Emmy Li, NP Clinical Lead
Edited by Greg Jagroo, Brooklyn Army Terminal COVID-19 Site Lead
The Brooklyn Army Terminal (BAT) Covid-19 testing and vaccine site was urgently built in just a few weeks in Spring 2020. The architecture of the place is just an old bank building inside, as well as 28 pods utilized as space to see patients. This mundane space however brought together the community and staff who gave it meaning.
Our testing site opened its doors to the community on May 28, 2020. We were a team of dedicated front desk workers, registered nurses, and nurse practitioners ready to test whoever was in need during the midst of the pandemic. At that time, only essential workers were out and the rest of New York City was staying at home, so it was a bit slow. Testing was free, safe and available for everyone whether or not they had insurance or ID.
In August 2020, we started to offer rapid and antibody testing. At the time, rapid and antibody testing were not widely offered yet so we were in good business. We were able to help everyone who came. Every staff member played an important role on site. Our front desk was tasked with registration or navigation to ensure patients were waiting for the right service. Our nurses were trained to either swab or run and expedite the specimens to the lab that we had built on site, in just a few days. Our nurse practitioners were assigned to create orders or educate each patient on best practices after resulting positive or negative specimens. This system worked. Rapid testing was only at BAT for two weeks, but the method we built at BAT has now been successfully applied at many other T2 testing sites.
Over the course of time, demand for testing went up and down. For example, the demand for testing became higher as the holidays were around the corner. We had lines everyday like it was Black Friday. This was a good sign for the longevity of our site. When patient flow was lower, some of our staff could temporarily transfer to other sites beginning to offer rapid testing, where their experience was a helpful contribution.
Many patients returned to our site for testing. We had weekly visits from employees from the Brooklyn Army Terminal because they needed to test to continue working. We built relationships over time with those who came frequently. Some patients knew the staff by their name and would request to be seen by them. Our site provided convenience and comfort to the community.
Things started changing in January 2021. New staff were hired with the rumor that vaccines were coming. We were all excited to finally be able to fight COVID and become a part of the solution. We officially became a 24-hour vaccine site on January 10, 2021, offering free Moderna vaccine. Switching from a testing site to a vaccine site was like doing a quick outfit change. Preparation for the vaccines was brief, but as a team we were ready to take on anything. On our first day of vaccination, we had more news reporters outside than patients. We worked hard to keep our focus on the patients, instead of the distractions outside.
When the vaccines came, a few of us stepped up to help manage clinically. We and the T2 leadership team worked together to create a system that minimized error and promoted safety and effectiveness for patients and staff. We also helped to come up with the best strategy to monitor and document every “in and out” of the vaccine handling and administration. With hard work and time, we earned our title as clinical leads for our site. We worked closely with the site leads and took on the responsibilities of monitoring, tracking and distributing vaccines as well as answering any clinical questions the team members or patients had. In addition to that we needed to do our own research to get updates on vaccines as well as have that clinical knowledge to perform in case of emergencies.
With this new vaccination project came new staff. We learned everyone’s personality as we worked closely with everyone on different levels. That helped us to run a successful site as we paired compatible team members together. While working together with different personalities and cultures we encountered a few hiccups. But as professionals, we were able to set our differences aside and create a common ground. We also had site leads managing the site, who helped as mediators to build bridges and create common goals amongst all.
Brooklyn Army Terminal experienced its peak vaccination volume during the months of March-April, when we saw about 2,000 patients a day. Our site lived up to all expectations as the mass vaccine site. The team utilized all resources to help patients including shorter lines for the disabled and elderly patients, video and phone translation services, certified interpretation volunteers, braille materials, and matching patients with team members who made the patients feel most comfortable.
Eventually, as more and more people got their vaccine, the crowds of patients decreased. As this happened, some of our team members left to take on new career opportunities which were possible because of their experience at BAT. As a team, we sent them off properly while celebrating their next opportunity.
When the flow of patients was slow, we thought of ways to bring more patients in. One way was setting up a photo booth for our patients to take pictures and share. We had music and a staff photographer to help promote. Patients were encouraged to walk over to the photo booth to take a photo and add #brooklynarmyterminal on all social media platforms to receive their NYCHHC goody bag. This created a word of mouth marketing strategy that continuously increased patient volume. The city also started to offer a $100 incentive for first dose patients which encouraged people to get vaccinated.
After Moderna booster shots were approved, our patient flow increased yet again with patients who were eager to get boosted. With all doses available we were able to partake in bring back our city. One vaccine at a time.
Change is the only constant at BAT. Working through these changes feels like working through different seasons. We adapted and continue to adapt to all changes just as we would adapt to different seasons. Sometimes, we needed to shed our layers and other times, we needed to add a layer. Our family was formed when we all worked together through these changes together. Decisions are made based on the team’s feedback and input. Any issues brought to light are discussed. Every accomplishment, big or small, to every culture and birthdays are celebrated.
The Brooklyn Army Terminal vaccine site doesn’t just offer testing and vaccines. It is also a site of attraction during the holidays. The staff put together decorations throughout the holidays and interactive activities to entertain the patients. When it snowed, the staff built some snowman. During the Olympics, we celebrated our culture and countries. During Halloween, the staff bought pumpkins and decorations for patients to take pictures with. Every shift and team working here took turns putting in effort to give this site life and color. As one of our site leads would say, “You have to do more than just your job description.” At Brooklyn Army Terminal, we all are truly challenged in many ways.
A big thank you and appreciation goes to our site leads Greg Jagroo, Anu Haastrup, Rosaria Diangelis and Dr. Edouard who worked through this pandemic with us and became the head of our dysfunctional team. A special thank you to Christine Thomas who is always there to support, guide and educate the team. Everyone brings their personality and leadership strength to the table. Each person is unique in their own way with different leadership styles that work while encouraging only the best from every staff member.