Health dept. make changes at Pipkin Building, consider limiting arrival times

The health department is making changes to help decrease wait times at the Pipkin Building

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said the long lines for vaccines at the Pipkin Building are tragic.

The Shelby County Health Department said it’s making changes to decrease wait times, but those waiting Thursday reported another day of more than three-hour waits.

The Shelby County Health Department said it made changes to help decrease wait times like add staff, reassign staff and reschedule some appointments.

“Every time health officials come on TV at 5 or at night and say they’re working to improve it, that’s just words,” one woman waiting in line said.

An 81-year-old woman talked to WMC Action News 5 and said she had been in line for more than three hours Thursday with still a while to go before reaching the Pipkin Building for her long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine.

“You sit too long, I don’t know if we’re going to be able to walk when we get out of here,” she said.

“This is tragic and something to be addressed,” Mayor Harris said.

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Once again, lines at the Pipkin Building on Thursday kept cars in line for hours running out onto Central Avenue and down East Parkway.

Mayor Harris said the growing demand for the vaccine is ultimately at the root of the issues facing the Health Department and its operation at the Pipkin Building.

“When you push your system to the max and you keep adding more and more slots and try to get that vaccine out sooner or later you reach a breaking point,” Harris said.

This week 800-900 appointments were scheduled a day at the Pipkin Building but Shelby County Health Department Director Dr. Alisa Haushalter said 1,400 were vaccinated at the site Wednesday.

She said some appointments this week have been rescheduled. Some of those appointments will be on Monday.

Usually, public vaccinations are only administered Tuesday- Saturday.

Dr. Haushalter is also looking into limiting people from coming to the Pipkin building for their appointment more than an hour in advance.

“It’s a good strategy,” Dr. Haushalter said.

The Appling Emissions Site put that rule in place for second dose vaccinations this week.

“If we can get these two things done in this community, get the appointments to not show up too early and get the walks ups to not get in the appointment line I think we’ll see those lines decrease,” Mayor Harris said.

On Wednesday, Dr. Haushalter said an expected number of people caused the problems at the beginning of the week.

She acknowledged some people got vaccinated without appointments.

“We do turn people away from the line, but if someone has made it all the way through the line, for whatever reason that might be, and they meet a certain criteria, it’s about opportunity and we’d give them the vaccine,” Dr. Haushalter said.

The Shelby County Health Department wants people to bring their appointment confirmations. But those with it on Thursday said no one had checked after three hours of waiting in line.

“No. We’ve just been driving and waiting,” Kim Staten-Smith said.

The county is expecting 11,900 doses next week, which is 3,000 more than in previous weeks.

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