They call themselves the Reruns.
A group of 26 retired CHI Health Mercy Council Bluffs employees, 24 of them former nurses, have teamed up to help the hospital vaccinate staff.
“It’s hard to be retired and sit at home, watching all the people suffering,” said retired nurse Dixie Kavars. “You just want to do something. And you know you’re capable. We call ourselves the Reruns.”
Kavars spearheaded the effort, with the help of former colleague Mary Shaughnessy-Swisher. The group formed in December.
On Tuesday, they assisted as Mercy completed a round of second doses of the Moderna vaccine. The Reruns don’t give the shots, but provided support in all other facets of the day’s clinic — checking staff in, monitoring for side effects — while also making sure the vaccinated stayed in the room for 15 minutes after receiving a shot — and sanitizing surfaces.
“Watching the news. I’ve cried so many times. Seeing nurses and doctors working so, so hard. And putting themselves in danger every day,” Shaughnessy-Swisher said. “When you think all the people out there (on the front lines), and what they need is vaccinations, you just want to be part of helping that happen.”
Denise McNitt, vice president of patient care services at the hospital, said the Reruns are “a Godsend.” The clinic required two full-time nurses to administer vaccine. If not for the group of retirees, there would’ve been another three to four nurses required for support.
“I’d have to take them off the hospital floor to help manage this,” she said. “They’re a tremendous help.”
Kavars spent 20 years in nursing positions at Mercy before leaving in 1991 when she moved away from Council Bluffs. She returned to the area in 2016. Shaughnessy-Swisher spent her entire 47-year nursing career with Mercy before retiring in January of 2018.
Another Rerun, Marolyn Nuzum, worked at the hospital for 46 years before retiring in December of 2017. She said when Shaughnessy-Swisher called, “I said right away I’d help out.”
“I just love to still help people. And I still love the people here,” she said. “It’s always a joy to come back to Mercy. See the mercy family. It’s been going very well.”
McNitt said many staff members remember the Reruns, with the work in part doubling as a time for reunions and chance “to connect and tell stories.” And it’s been a chance for the former nurses and staff members to join the fray.
“As a nurse, your whole profession is related to helping people. COVID has been hard on health care workers that aren’t working,” she said. “This has really helped them feel like they’ve contributed.”
Kavars, Shaughnessy-Swisher and Nuzum said they’re happy to see their former colleagues in health care get vaccinated. The hospital will complete around 600 full series of vaccinations by Feb. 2, according to McNitt. The facility has had around 85 to 90% participation among staff.
As of Friday, 3,792 Pottawattamie County residents have received vaccine, with county providers administering a total of 7,964 doses, according to Iowa Department of Public Health data. There have been 544 series completed.
“It’s a necessity,” Nuzum. “I’m glad to see so many people setting up to the plate to do it.”
Kavars said the group would continue to offer its services to Mercy until vaccinations are complete, and then plans to look for other opportunities to help. In addition to Mercy, Methodist Jennie Edmundson Hospital and All Care Health Center administering vaccine, Pottawattamie County Public Health has been holding clinics, with more planned in the future.
And when vaccinations are complete in the area?
“We’ll find another project,” Kavars said. “Once a nurse, always a nurse.”