Students to Watch: Heather EichstadtRN to BS Student Heather Eichstadt is Leading Sanford Bemidji’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plans

A Bemidji State University nursing student is leading the charge as Sanford Health of Bemidji races to distribute COVID-19 vaccinations.

In addition to her role as Sanford’s immunization coordinator, Heather Eichstadt is completing her bachelor’s degree in nursing at BSU. She began developing Sanford’s vaccine distribution process in August 2020. With the addition of an ultra-cold freezer required to store the Pfizer-BioTech vaccine, Bemidji became a regional distribution hub.

“At first, we began looking at distribution options like we would for the flu vaccine, and explored drive-up and blitz options,” Eichstadt said. “Depending on the vaccine there are a lot of things that you have to consider. Among other things, we made plans to offer vaccination clinics in a central location and then provided the proper training to vaccine administrators. Putting it all together was very exciting and we have been able to vaccinate about 1500 of our staff.”

The first vaccination clinic was held for Sanford employees on Dec. 17, 2020, with hospital volunteers, including a number of Bemidji State’s nursing students and professors, following shortly thereafter. By the end of January, the rollout continued to high-risk community members.

After completing her bachelor’s degree, Eichstadt intends to pursue a master’s degree in nursing, making the transition from a managing role to one focused on directly helping patients.

“I love leadership, but I really identify with patient care,” Eichstadt said. “I love implementing change, but I want to get back into patient care. That’s what led me to become a nurse in the first place.”

As a student and practicing nurse during the pandemic, the mother of four from Bemidji says the community has helped her stay positive and get through the challenges presented by COVID-19.

“I’m thankful for the community we live in and for everything I have,” she said, “We have experienced trying times this year and it has taken a toll on everyone, but I’m doing well. What gave me a huge boost was being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccination and knowing that we are going to beat this pandemic.”

In addition to her role as immunization coordinator, Eichstadt also manages Sanford’s obstetric, pediatric and medicated therapy clinics.

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