Mercy Fort Smith leaders presented members of the Sebastian County Emergency Management team with the Community Lamplighter Award for their important work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The award was presented Thursday night, during Mercy Week, in recognition of the assistance Sebastian County provided Mercy while testing and vaccinating area residents for COVID-19 over the past year and a half. The county provided two locations at Ben Geren Park in Fort Smith for a drive-through test site and vaccination clinic, as well as a county facility where teams from Mercy and Baptist Health set up a community call center in March 2020. Members of the emergency management team also provided on-site assistance every day the test site, clinic and call center were open.
Those recognized during the ceremony include Sebastian County Judge David Hudson, emergency management director Kendall Beam, deputy director Travis Cooper, and reserve deputy Zena Chinos.
Amy Fore, Mercy Clinic Fort Smith chief operating officer, said Mercy recognized that it was an entire team effort on Sebastian County’s part.
“There were so many people who were able to volunteer, to spend time with us and to help us make this possible,” Fore said. “There is no way we, as a health care system or as a community of health care providers, would have been able to reach and minister to so many of our River Valley citizens without the incredible donation of space, time and resources, and then the continued support and encouragement from our Sebastian County emergency management team.”
Jessie Williams, Mercy COVID-19 vaccine clinic coordinator, said the team was there each day at the call center, test site and vaccine clinic to make sure Mercy had everything it needed to take care of the community. The call center began in one room with four people answering questions and scheduling tests, but quickly expanded.
“Soon, we realized the community needed even more of us to be available, and we were graciously allowed to take up even more space in the office,” she said. “We took up a lot of space, and we were very loud. And yet, we were always made to feel welcome. That feeling was so crucial to our team. And for that, we are and always will be grateful.”
In addition, the emergency management team helped the call center get in touch with organizations that provided meals and snacks for workers at the call center, who found it difficult to get away at times.
Once COVID-19 vaccinations became available to the public, Sebastian County provided the tornado shelter at Ben Geren Park as a location for a vaccination clinic. Mercy was never alone in the efforts, thanks to the Sebastian County team.
“We quickly and efficiently set up inside the tornado shelter and, once again, were made to feel like we were at home,” Williams said. “Because of the generosity of Judge David Hudson and the willingness of the Sebastian County emergency management team, we were able to witness the first ray of hope in a very long time. Our appointments very quickly filled up; it was amazing.”
The members of the community who showed up were so relieved to have the opportunity to receive the vaccine, she added. As the vaccination eligibility expanded, the Mercy team saw many more happy moments from community members.