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Blackhawk Tech explains how it turned campus into a vaccine and testing hub

Published: Apr. 3, 2021 at 5:54 PM CDT
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JANESVILLE, Wis. (WMTV) - Since February, thousands of people have passed through Blackhawk Technical College, which transformed a campus into a regional hub for vaccine distribution.

The state’s first community vaccine clinic is housed in a student center at the school’s central campus. Operated by an independent healthcare company called AMI, the clinic is currently giving 2,500 shots per week, according to college and local health officials.

“Wisconsin’s technological college system is rooted in workforce and economic development. There’s nothing more important for workforce and economic development than our people’s health,” Dr. Tracy Pierner, president of Blackhawk Tech, said.

While the pandemic has kept many students learning from home, Dr. Pierner said he saw opportunities there. For example, freer parking lots have allowed community testing to occur since October, according to a spokesperson. Dr. Pierner said testing grew out of talks with local health officials, and more conversations led to his campus getting tapped by the state to host the vaccine clinic.

When Gov. Tony Evers announced the creation of the Rock Co. clinic in February, he said it would “start with the ability to vaccinate up to 250 individuals daily.” According to Rick Wietersen, an environmental health director for the Rock Co. Health Department, vaccine operations are looking to ramp up and vaccinate up to 5,000 people per week.

Wietersen said the facility has been critical in the public health response to the pandemic.

“This offers an opportunity for those that don’t have a medical home or don’t have ready access to places like pharmacies,” Wietersen said.

According to Dr. Pierner, Blackhawk Tech isn’t getting paid for hosting the vaccine service. “But our tax payers are supporting this facility,” he added.

In neighboring Dane County, Alliant Energy Center serves as another large testing and vaccination site. The county’s public health department runs operations here, giving more than a thousand vaccine shots a day.

Brent McHenry, the center’s executive director, said “This is the nature of our facility. We are designed and operated to provide support at all levels during an emergency, but also positive, happy, exciting events.”

McHenry told NBC15 the center is getting reimbursed for things like utilities but not gaining revenue.

Starting April 5, Wisconsin’s vaccine eligibility will expand to include anyone 16 years or older, but those planning to get vaccinated at Blackhawk Tech must be 18 years or older. A school spokesperson said the clinic uses the Moderna vaccine, which is only approved for the slightly older age group.

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