By Lorelie Yujuico, National Clinical Director of Nursing, Curative
Outside of the facility where my nursing team and I were to administer our initial doses of the Covid-19 vaccine—a Los Angeles nursing home that had been hit hard by the virus—we set up our first vaccination site. Along with hundreds of the facility’s patients and staff, we awaited the arrival of the vaccine. When the delivery van rolled up, the residents and staff spontaneously broke into cheers and applause. Under my protective gear, I teared up at this incredible display of appreciation. Emotions were high that day, not just for me and my colleagues, but for the staff and residents of the nursing home, who were experiencing, I suspect, both relief at having the vaccine within arm’s reach and the memory of the enormous losses they had endured over the past year.
That first vaccination event was the culmination of a whirlwind few weeks of recruiting and training nursing staff at the company I work for, Curative, and preparing for our part in what would be one of the largest vaccine rollouts in history. Originally a biotech startup that had been developing a new way to test for sepsis, Curative did what so many others did when the pandemic hit: changed the course of their work almost overnight and put all their energy and focus into fighting Covid-19. They started with large-scale testing efforts and then pivoted to vaccination as soon as it was possible.
My work with the company began in late November 2020, when Covid-19 numbers were rising, but the vaccine was just weeks away from gaining emergency use authorization from the FDA. I had set out to look for a part-time job to slowly transition back into nursing after a year off to heal from an injury, but serendipitously, applied to Curative and ended up being quickly hired for the full-time job of heading nursing recruitment and training. I’m an RN with more than 24 years of experience; I spent the last 10 years practicing infusion education, teaching and certifying nurses in peripheral and central line placement and maintenance in acute care and long-term settings.
But for Curative, the task was different—to recruit and train nurses with different backgrounds and experience levels to give vaccinations at potentially large sites, which would involve growing the team very quickly. So in early December 2020, when we knew the vaccine was imminent, we dove in. Since we had to keep ourselves and our colleagues safe while training, we used an outdoor covered garage and followed all the Covid-19 safety guidelines closely. To get a jump start and proactively prepare for once the vaccines arrived when training new recruits, I got creative and decided to use oranges to practice deltoid injections while we waited for the “real” fake arms to be delivered. I also had to train the nurses in “cold chain” so they knew how to thaw, prepare and administer the vaccines while keeping them viable for use before they expired. In the first week, I recruited and trained 20 nurses—by the end of the second week we had more than 70.
As Curative’s mass vaccination sites expanded, first to Northern California and then to other states, we had to scale our staffing strategy. I helped establish hiring and training teams to support the growth in new locations. In the mornings we trained nurses hired the previous day, while in the afternoons we hired more nurses—it was a machine, and an effective one. Within four months, we created a team of 700 nurses, who were all carefully vetted and trained. In L.A. and other big cities, there’s another element that you also have to be prepared for: celebrities. Not only do they need to get vaccinated, but they often take selfies and videos of the process to share with their fans. So, we also helped our staff prepare for those inevitable moments where their performance might end up being viewed by millions.
Curative now has mass vaccination sites across California, and also in Texas, Delaware, Massachusetts, Florida, Illinois, Arizona and Michigan. We have vaccinated 12,000 people per day at our largest fixed sites, like Dodger Stadium in L.A. Partnerships with other organizations, including fire departments, police departments, city agencies, volunteer organizations, and numerous others have been one of the keys to Curative’s rapid expansion with smaller sites. And within the organization, close collaboration between the nurse hiring and training teams, executive team, nursing and other clinical staff, and field workers scouting and securing new locations has also been essential as we’ve grown across communities and states.
As important as the mass sites are for vaccinating people in large numbers in metropolitan areas, Curative quickly realized that we also needed to reach people in rural and other underserved communities. In addition to our goal of vaccinating as many people as possible was to launch mobile sites—vans that travel to rural areas and kiosks, which might only serve a few hundred people in a day but are still critical to public health safety. In some places, residents don’t have internet access and hear about us through word of mouth or through their church so seeing our mobile vans is an important visual for potential patients. And though we still have more fixed than mobile sites, we’ll likely rely on vans more and more, as demand changes and mass sites eventually close.
In March 2021, I was promoted to National Clinical Director of Nursing, which means that each time we launch a vaccination site that hasn’t yet hired a Director of Nursing, I play that role until we fill it. So, I travel a lot. And while I have shifted my work to others to complete the intimate, hands-on experience training of the new staff I once did in those early days, I continue to be awestruck by the dedication and talent of the nurses who work with us. Throughout the pandemic, nurses have been superstars, stepping up again and again, out on the frontlines, tirelessly taking care of patients. Many of our nursing staff left positions in hospitals to work with us because they wanted to be a part of fighting Covid-19. Their commitment to that goal continues to amaze and inspire me and hearing the positive feedback from nurses when I am on the ground, in the field is beyond rewarding.
After some terrible pandemic months in the fall and winter, the Covid-19 numbers in L.A. are once again low—and nursing homes were some of the first populations to show the benefits of vaccination. It feels like our efforts are finally paying off. At that first vaccination event at the nursing home, the facility’s administrator, director of nursing and other staff were very emotional when their turns came. Months earlier, half the patients at the facility and dozens of staff were sick with Covid-19. But those first shots were proof that people working together can change trajectories for the better. Coming together for a single vision—not to mention some intense planning and a few sleepless nights—can make great things happen.
Lorelie is a seasoned RN, BSN with solid leadership, management, and teaching skills. While she has professional expertise in infusion education and consulting, she also has had a variety of experiences in acute care, long-term care, outpatient clinics, home care, and hospice.