Hundreds of volunteers answer M Health Fairview’s call for help distributing COVID-19 vaccines

M Health Fairview has administered nearly 100,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine – more than any other health system in Minnesota. Key to that success? The efforts of hundreds of Twin Cities volunteers.

Rob Olsen (left) and Lisa Nasseff (right) are two of more than 400 local volunteers who stepped up this year to help our health system administer COVID-19 vaccines across the state.

Volunteering in healthcare has had its own health benefits for retiree Rob Olsen.

Over the past six years, he has averaged 12,000 steps a day transporting lab samples and running errands around M Health Fairview Southdale Hospital as part of its STEP Force volunteer program. Recently, he has found a new way to give back – assisting with COVID-19 vaccination clinics for his peers, those 75 and older who are at a higher risk for serious complications from COVID-19.

At Southdale’s vaccination center, Olsen escorted those who just received the vaccine to the observation room and took an optional celebratory photo. Now, at M Health Fairview Clinic – Xerxes, which is closed but currently being used to host vaccination events, he greets newcomers at the door.  

In addition to wanting to help his peers, Olsen was initially inspired to volunteer in healthcare after his mother spent the last decade of her life in assisted living. “I went over there daily for the last four or five years, and was trained to help take care of her,” he said.

Now, Olsen is one of over 2,100 community members who responded to M Health Fairview’s request for vaccination clinic volunteers. Over 400 of these applicants completed onboarding and have been able to volunteer in both clinical and non-clinical roles during the past two months. Thanks in large part to this support, M Health Fairview has administered nearly 100,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, more than any other health system in Minnesota.  

While the response has been so great that applications for vaccination clinic volunteers are no longer needed, volunteers like Olsen continue to be an integral part of the M Health Fairview team.

Lisa Nasseff, a longtime peer support group leader and former patient at M Health Fairview St. Joseph’s Campus, also answered a call for volunteers earlier this year. Nasseff was contacted in early January by M Health Fairview with a request for community volunteers to assist at vaccination clinics. She immediately jumped at the opportunity, motivated by the chance to help vaccinate healthcare workers at the beginning of the rollout.

“Those frontline workers are very important to me, as I’ve been helped several times,” she said.

Nasseff struggled with anorexia for over three decades, a perspective she brought to her peer support groups in the St. Joe’s general and geriatric mental health units before the pandemic.

Once it’s safe to do so, Nasseff is eager to return to volunteering in her normal capacity and predicts that the need for her work will only increase due to the past year’s spike in mental health concerns. For now, helping with the vaccine rollout has been a welcome substitute for both Nasseff and the providers who are relying on volunteer support.

“Our volunteers support our commitment to provide exceptional care. As COVID cases continue to drop in our system, we are thrilled to see our volunteers again,” said Heidi Shannon, system director for volunteer services.

As Olsen said, “I live by the rule that kindness costs nothing, and I really feel that volunteering has changed my life. When I walk out of the hospital or clinic, I feel good about the day.”

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