Local nurses celebrated for vaccination work during pandemic

Nurses Crushing Covid organizers (from left) Michaelle Jarnagan, Lori Mahler and Julie Ironside. / Photo: Ironside Photography

A celebration was held at the Fayetteville Town Center on Tuesday and even though you might not have been invited, you were a big part of the event if you’ve been vaccinated against Covid-19 in Northwest Arkansas.

Tuesday’s celebration was to honor the nearly 200 working and retired nurses and other medical professionals who worked tirelessly to get thousands of shots in arms in vaccination sites and clinics all across the region. The group is now known as Nurses Crushing Covid.

At the start of the year, nurses Julie Ironside, Michaelle Jarnagan, and Lori Mahler had a conversation about how much they wanted to do something to help get vaccines administered, and their discussion led to a movement and Nurses Crushing Covid was born. By mid-January nurses began volunteering to help.

Julie works full-time at Willow Creek NICU and Michaelle works full-time at Circle of Life Hospice. Lori is retired, so she took on the brunt of the task of getting the word out to other nurses primarily using text messaging. The three were surprised at how fast the grassroots movement spread.

Lori Mahler speaks during the event / Photo: Ironside Photography

“I thought it would go from the three of us to maybe 10 to 15 volunteers, and we ended up with over a hundred right away,” Lori said. “The community has been incredible. One person in the group knew somebody and they knew somebody and then it just snowballed into a community effort. A flood of people on our text thread joined in and offered to help with whatever availability there was at the various pharmacies or vaccine events we listed with only one goal: getting shots in arms. The reward has been in the many thanks we’ve received from the volunteers and from those receiving the vaccines.”

Among the nurses celebrated Tuesday, one nurse in particular stood out.

“After a year of feeling helpless, knowing I had something to offer, I jumped at the chance to volunteer,” said Jackie Tighe, a retired RN. “When I first started giving shots I wasn’t in the age group approved to receive the vaccine. Since I got to go to the front of the line to get the vaccine because I was giving shots, I thought I needed to give at least 100 shots in order to feel OK about jumping the line, so I just started counting.”

As of Wednesday, Tighe had given 2,043 shots.

Ashlee Hicks has worked with kids as a longtime school nurse and has given many shots to kids through the years. Now a mom at home with four kids working through virtual learning, pursuing her masters in nursing, and running her business – Good to Grow – Ashlee has been volunteering to vaccinate kids in the new group of 12-15 years old.

“This is the first time in my career I’ve known kids to be excited about receiving a shot,” said Hicks.

All of the nurses honored Tuesday rose to the call when the community needed them. When pharmacies started receiving vaccines but didn’t have the staff to administer them, Nurses Crushing Covid worked to vaccinate thousands of people.

Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan proclaimed May 18, 2021 as “COVID-19 Vaccine Volunteer Day” in a pre-recorded message that was played during the event.

The Nurses Crushing Covid group plans to continue the work getting shots in arms to help keep the community safe and help the local economy return to some sort of normalcy.