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Retired WNC Health Director Volunteers To Help With COVID-19 Vaccine

Courtesy of Haywood Health and Human Services
Former public health director Patrick Johnson administers the COVID-19 vaccine to his wife Kathie. Both are in the high-risk group and have volunteered to admister the vaccine to others.

Local health departments across Western North Carolina are depending on volunteers to help them with the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

BPR talked with a former public health director who came out of retirement to help administer the vaccine.

Patrick Johnson retired as the public health director for Haywood County’s Health and Human Services Department last fall, after working in public health for 36 years.

“When I decided to retire, they talked me out of it once,” said Johnson. He’s 66 years old.

Johnson says he stayed on as long as possible during the pandemic after dealing with long term complications from a 2013 stroke. However, COVID-19 has stretched local medical professionals thin, so Johnson volunteered to help with contact tracing and the vaccine.

“I kind of felt like maybe I could help out so I called to see if they could use me as a volunteer,” said Johnson. He's still a registered nurse.  

Johnson’s wife Kathie is also registered nurse.  She still works at Haywood Health and Human Services with social workers.

“We’ve been married 30 years. It’s the second marriage for both of us. And we met actually running a relay race in Ormond beach,” said Kathie Johnson.

One of the first COVID-19 vaccine shots they gave were to each other. Patrick explains:

“That was kind of fun. I don’t think we had ever done that before. We are both high-risk, so we were pleased to be able to get the shot and give the shot to one another,” said Patrick Johnson.  

The Johnsons say they would like to retire full-time, but Kathie says it just feels like they are needed in the community. They also volunteer for Meals On Wheels, Haywood Gleaners, the Mountain-To-Sea Trail and other organizations.

“I enjoy volunteering and I’m good at giving shots. So I figured I might as well. And we need to get more shots into people’s arms here in Haywood County,” said Kathie Johnson.  

So far, over 6,000 people have been vaccinated in Haywood County. The county is still marked “red,” the highest designation for critical amounts of community spread.

Many Western North Carolina Health departments are hiring or looking for volunteers – registered medical professional or not – to help with the COVID-19 roll out.

Reach out to your local health department to see if they are looking for volunteers. For example, in Macon County, if you would like to volunteer. Fill out a volunteer registration application here. Then email it to volunteer@maconnc.org or submit it in person to the Macon Tax Office located at 5 West Main Street Franklin, NC.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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