The Lancaster County Commissioners approved an agreement with Lancaster General Health Wednesday to use the former Bon Ton at Park City mall as a mass COVID-19 vaccination center this spring.
The plan is to turn the former department store into a community vaccination cite capable of administering up to 6,000 shots a day.
But as Dr. Michael R. Ripchinski, the chief clinical officer for LGH reiterated Wednesday, the plan hinges on getting enough doses.
He said that the hospital is willing to divert some of its weekly allocation in March, when vaccinations at the cite are slated to begin, and that the hospital system is currently in talks with FEMA to receive direct allocations of doses, by passing the Pennsylvania Department of Health allocation system which has frustrated local leaders.
"We appreciate our ongoing conversations (with FEMA) to potentially get direct FEMA allocation for vaccines for the center," Ripchinski said Wednesday.
Under the agreement, Lancaster General Health, which along with other county health systems will be managing the site, will be reimbursed up to $250,000 for a rental agreement with the mall’s owner, Brookfield Properties.
Ripchinski said if the 6,000 dose a day goal is met, then the cost of running the center could exceed $20 million by the end of June.
The money to cover the short-term lease would come out of the unspent portion of COVID-19 relief funds the county received from the federal government last May. Other expenses incurred by Lancaster General Health or the county to operate the site would be submitted to FEMA for reimbursement.
“Given the need to provide over 400,000 people with vaccinations in Lancaster County, we need that comprehensive, community-wide solution to address the large-scale demand we are hearing about, as well as to ultimately recover from this pandemic,” Ripchinski said at a Tuesday Commissioners' work session.
Last week, the county and Lancaster General Health entered into an agreement for a community vaccination center that would open in mid-March and have the capacity to deliver up to 6,000 shots a day by April. That target, combined with the size of the facility, makes the center fall into the largest category of community vaccination center under FEMA’s guidelines, making it eligible for potential cost reimbursements.
The site would administer available vaccines from any manufacturer, and they would operate between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. every day of the week, with vaccinations occurring between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Scheduling of vaccination appointments will occur online or through a call center, Ripchinski said Tuesday.
Commissioner Ray D’Agostino said Tuesday county residents should continue to check vaccinatelancaster.org for updates on scheduling.
“That’s going to be the site to go to for all things relevant to the vaccine and this center,” he said.
As of Wednesday, 17,489 county residents have been fully protected with two doses of vaccine, according to the state Department of Health, and another 31,450 have received their first dose.
County approves $16 million rent and utility relief program
Also at Wednesday's meeting, the commissioners approved a a plan to give struggling tenants and landlords access to about $16 million in rent and utility assistance starting in March.
The funding was made available through the federal Emergency Rental Assistance program — a $25 billion provision included in the federal stimulus package passed in December. Local housing officials expect to receive more funding through the state-created program as well, but the amount they will be allocated has yet to be determined.
The program will accept applications through Sept. 30, unless extended. Eligible households can apply online, or by calling 2-1-1 to be connected with a network partner closest to where they live, according to the plan.
Although the program is slated to start in March, the authority is waiting for more details from the federal government, Eby said — if additional guidance is not provided by the start of March, the program may be delayed a week at a time, he said.
Hurubie Meko contributed to this report.