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JOLIET, IL – It goes without saying that the COVID-19 Pandemic we have all gone through over the last 14 months has brought about negative experiences, sometimes tragic, for so many who have been affected.

But for hundreds of residents with special needs and their caregivers, along with some collegiate nursing students looking for some rewarding real-world experience towards the end of their senior years, a recent vaccination clinic at Lewis University provided some very positive vibes for all involved.

It all began with the need for nine Lewis University students to complete their Role Transition course “Public Health Immersion” experience right before graduation this spring.  The idea came up for Lewis University and the WCHD (Will County Health Department) to combine their efforts on a very important and challenging vaccination duty: Taking care of those with special needs.

“This clinic allowed us to reach a vulnerable population while providing the students a great experience working with the special needs population,” said WCHD Emergency Preparedness and Response Coordinator Kathleen Weber.  “The students stepped up and did an excellent job showing so much compassion for this population, and making them feel so comfortable in what is a very anxiety producing situation.”

Lewis University nursing students were joined by the Lockport Township Fire District in offering WCHD assistance in vaccinating special needs residents on March 27th and April 17th on the Lewis Campus.  LTFD provided vaccine for those who chose the “drive-through” option.  Lewis University’s Dr. Nanci Reiland, Associate Professor of Nursing and Director of Continuing Education, is on the left.

These special target vaccination clinics for first and second vaccination doses, offering a variety of special accommodations, were held on March 27th and April 17th at Lewis University’s St. Charles Borromeo Center in Romeoville, with slightly over 600 vaccination doses given on both days.  Lewis nursing students, along with students working specialized areas such as Occupational Therapy and Speech Pathology, brainstormed on items such as specialized signage, putting together a large team of volunteers, as well as setting up an assessment tool to be used upon the arrival of each patient.

Once a patient was assessed, a determination was made as to if an individual would, for example, be better off going through a drive-through vaccination line, or perhaps would do better in an extra quiet vaccination and recovery area.  There was also the option of placing patients in an area accompanied by live classical music (which was provided by the SW Suburban American Guild of Organists).

The Lewis University Best Buddies program, where students donate their time offering comfort and companionship to special needs children and adults, also assisted in keeping both the special needs patients and their caregivers comfortable.   In addition, the Lockport Township Fire Protection District was on hand to provide emergency assistance if needed, as well as to provide vaccine for special needs residents who chose the drive-through arrangement.

Lewis University students who participated in the special needs vaccination clinics prepare to review their work before WCHD personnel. The students pictured (L to R) are Michelle Tacbas, Monika Dziadkowiec, Evelyn Quintana, Jessica Kulach, Allison Novak, Gabby Boblak, Luke Garwood, Iwona Rutkowski, and James Small.

For Lewis University’s Dr. Nanci Reiland, Associate Professor of Nursing and Director of Continuing Education, it was the double delight of seeing the students put this together, along with what she heard from the mother of one of the patients afterwards.

“It was great to see the students use their leadership and critical thinking skills,” said Reiland.  “A mom with a 25- year-old special needs daughter came up to me and said that for 25 years she’s been in situations where she feels awkward or rushed when it comes to getting care for her daughter.  But this clinic, she told me, was completely different.  Everything felt very relaxed.”

The Lewis students spoke of the joy of seeing special needs patients smiling right through their masks, as well as the fact that there was never a bottleneck problem as the patients waited to receive their vaccinations.

“This was a great chance for us to experience the pandemic from a completely different setting than inside a doctor’s office or hospital,” said Lewis student Monika Dziadklowwiec.  “It was very rewarding for all of us, and a great opportunity to use our leadership skills to make it happen.”

For more on the Lewis University College of Nursing and Health Sciences, please go to

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