CU Gets Lesson In Demand For Vaccine

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One credit union here got a strong dose of the public's concerns over a flu epidemic.

When the Department of Public Health asked Twin Cities Co-ops FCU to host a flu shot clinic for the second year in a row, the staff was happy to oblige. But after attracting just 75 people to a similar clinic last year, more than 750 had taken numbers by mid-day this year.

While aware of media reports that vaccines were in short supply, the credit union nevertheless anticipated response would be similar to last year, as a local grocery store chain had already been sponsoring clinics.

Twin Cities Co-ops opted to host the clinic on a Wednesday, which would cause the least strain on the workflow, and ordered cookies and juice and set up accommodations for nurses to work at the main headquarters and five branch locations. And although it anticipated a modest crowd, as a precaution, the credit union hired off-duty officers for each location, said Todd Barduson, public relations manager at TCCFCU.

Day-Long Commitment

Two hours prior to the first shot given, Barduson said, he knew this "nice community service project" was about to become a day-long commitment for at least half of the credit union staff.

"The clinic wasn't set to start until 10 a.m.," he said. "But a little after 8, people were waiting in theirs cars...By 9:15, we had 50 people standing in our lobby."

As the line continued to grow both inside and outside, Barduson said, one staff member at the main office started handing out numbers so those at the end of the line didn't have to stand in the 20-degree weather.

"By about noon, when we gave out our 750th number, the decision was made to cut it off," he said, adding that those who were turned away were informed of additional clinics being set up elsewhere the following day. Outside the parking lot for 500 cars was packed, spilling traffic into neighboring lots

Barduson said while staff was not able to give out shots or handle any of the paperwork, they helped with crowd control, often just making conversation.

"There were people in line for four hours plus," he said, noting that the process took a lot longer than just getting pricked with a needle. He said patients were required to fill out a brief medical form and a document releasing the credit union, the nurses and the agencies involved from liability, pay for the service or provide insurance proof, and wait 15 minutes after receiving the vaccine in case of an adverse reaction.

In the midst of it all was media representing every local television station, newspaper and radio. "I'm still laughing at the front page story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press," Barduson said. "When was the last time a credit union made the front page of a newspaper for something positive? All the coverage certainly surprised us."

He said the event even made the 5, 6 and 10 p.m. television news.

Barduson insisted that the media attention was the last thing on anyone's mind from the start.

"We did this just as a community service," he said. "Certainly, we wanted people to identify Twin Cities credit union as a possible banking home in the future. But we didn't use this as an opportunity to solicit our products and services. We invited people from the community in just to create a familiarity."

He said the branches did hold a raffle in which participants were asked to fill out a form and check boxes if they were interested in getting more information about the credit union's offerings. To be honest, he said, "it was just so chaotic that the raffle area blended into the woodwork."

More Than 1,000 Vaccinated

By 4:30 p.m., a half hour passed closing time, some 800 people nine years old and older received vaccinations at the main office. Another 400 to 600-"I don't have an exact count, yet," Barduson said-got shots at the branches.

When it was all over, Barduson said he received only minor ribbing from fellow employees who said "that was quite a thing you got us into."

But, truth be known, "They said it was fun."

And, while it did end up being a 50% staff commitment, which slowed the daily operation and forced the cancellation of appointments, particularly for loan closings, Barduson said, the $300-million credit union will consider another run next year.

"We'll have some wrap-up meetings with the Department of Health to see what worked and what we could improve upon," he said, adding that the biggest lesson came from the people standing in the long lines.

"Get a flu shot in October when the supplies are available."

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