Vice president's husband touts stimulus bill in Blair

Doug Emhoff visited MCH, vaccination clinic

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The husband of Vice President Kamala Harris thanked frontline workers for their efforts to fight the pandemic during visits Tuesday at Memorial Community Hospital and Health System (MCH) and a vaccination clinic in Blair.

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff was in Nebraska to promote the recently-passed stimulus bill, highlighting the provisions dealing with health care.

In addition to increased subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, the plan includes specific provisions for rural health programs during the pandemic, including grants to rural hospitals to assist with vaccination administration, telehealth services and to help them hire workers.

“The American Rescue Plan is for all communities,” Emhoff said. “I thought it was important to come out to a rural community to see the hospital, to be at the vaccination clinic just to show that we're all in this together. It doesn't matter where you live. This plan helps everybody.”

Emhoff discussed battling the pandemic and vaccination efforts with MCH President and CEO Manny Banner, vaccination and testing organizer Kelsey Maas and nurse Terrin Leehy.

“It’s been a roller coaster,” Leehy said of her work in the emergency room. “It’s been scary, it’s been sad, it’s been very rewarding.”

The group talked about the importance of improved rural broadband service for rural telemedicine. The lack of connectivity also been an issue recently because most vaccination signups have been online, they said

“So in the future we're hoping with, with increased broadband access, we will have increased connectivity for those who need it most,” Banner said.

Emhoff said rural broadband “has been a recurring theme” as he has traveled the country.

Banner also told Emhoff about how the hospital has dealt with the shortage of nurses and staff. In many cases, employees are doing the work of three to four people.

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff speaks to Memorial Community Hospital employees, including MCH President and CEO Manny Banner, second from right, during a visit Tuesday in Blair.
Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff speaks to Memorial Community Hospital employees, including MCH President and CEO Manny Banner, second from right, during …
“We need more nurses and frontline workers out here in rural America because they were struggling to have folks here and it's even worse now,” Emhoff said. “It's doing more with less, but they have to do it.”

Banner told the Enterprise the Biden administration is listening. She said she offered important information for Emhoff to relay to the vice president and president.

“We need to continue to have vaccine be available to us in the numbers that we're getting it right now,” she said. “The other thing was really to continue to look toward the future and make sure that if or when something like COVID-19 happens again that we're still prepared. (We need to) take the lessons we've learned really to heart in preparing for the next big thing.”

Banner said meeting with Emhoff was an “amazing opportunity” to show what MCH can do and has done over the last year.

“MCH is such a wonderful facility,” she said. “Anytime we can show that and show that we're really working hard on making sure that our community gets the best from us, we have to do that.”

After visiting the hospital, Emhoff then attended a vaccination clinic at First Lutheran Church.

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff speaks to Three Rivers Public Health Department Executive Director Terra Uhing, left, and First Lutheran Church Pastor Scott Frederickson during a visit Tuesday in Blair.
Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff speaks to Three Rivers Public Health Department Executive Director Terra Uhing, left, and First Lutheran Church Pastor …
Three Rivers Public Health Department Executive Director Terra Uhing showed Emhoff the vaccination process. Uhing explained the difficulty the health department originally faced trying to run a drive-through vaccination clinic in Nebraska’s sub-freezing temperatures. It didn’t work well.
So she was happy when Pastor Scott Fredrickson made his facility at First Lutheran Church available as a vaccination site.
Fredrickson said his church was happy to do it, seeing it as an opportunity to serve its neighbors and “help make the world a better and safer place.”

“It could not be a better partnership,” Uhing said of the collaboration with First Lutheran.

Uhing told Emhoff the impact of the pandemic will be around for a long time. There are more people dealing with mental health issues. And also people who have not taken care of their general  health in the past year, including putting off immunizations and cancer screenings.

“COVID will be ending, but we will have the repercussions for years to come,” she told the Enterprise.

Uhing said she also stressed the importance of public health.

“I told him that the staff, you know, they're tired. My staff is amazing,” she said. “If we didn't have our public health staff across the state of Nebraska, we wouldn't be in the situation we are.”

Emhoff then took the time to take photos with the Three Rivers staff, and even visiting with Uhing's husband through FaceTime.

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff poses for a photo with the staff of the Three Rivers Public Health Department at a vaccination clinic Tuesday in Blair.
Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff poses for a photo with the staff of the Three Rivers Public Health Department at a vaccination clinic Tuesday in Blair.
Emhoff said the “boots on the ground” visit was an opportunity to take what he learned back to the administration, including his wife.

“I'm going to tell her (about the) sense of community and collaboration,” he said. “The concept that we're all in this together. You didn't hear us talk about politics at all, you just heard us talk about communities in need.”

Pool coverage from the Omaha World-Herald and KMTV contributed to this report.

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