A company that made its name by running golf tournaments, football games and car races is now taking over a call center that handles inquiries about COVID-19 vaccines.
The Bruno Event Team has been operating the Jefferson County Department of Health’s call center since Friday. The department announced the move in a video press conference Tuesday morning.
The operating hours of the call center also have been expanded, and it now is available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily except Sundays. The phone number, 205-858-2221, remains unchanged.
Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency Director Jim Coker said that the original call center, managed by his department and staffed by volunteers, was intended since its January start-up to be a temporary arrangement.
The reason for the move to Bruno Event Team management “is primarily space,” Coker said. “We try to observe social distancing. We were limited at EMA in the number of call-takers we could have.”
“We always knew that this would be a bridge from the outset because as more and more people became eligible, the calls increased and the registrations increased,” Coker said.
Managing a call center for vaccine information is not as far afield from Bruno’s management of sports events as one might think.
“This past year, we’ve been heavily involved in COVID-related projects, most notably the GuideSafe testing program for higher ed statewide and handling the University of Alabama quarantine and isolation program,” said Bruno Event Team President and CEO Gene Hallman. “In addition to both of those programs in terms of the implementation, we’ve also handled the call centers for both of these projects and have gained a great deal of experience in that effort.”
Hallman added that the call center is not just for scheduling vaccine appointments but also for questions about the vaccine, tests, “or anything COVID-related whatsoever.”
The call center has been used to register people into a database that JCDH will use to contact people as they become eligible for vaccinations, and that registration will continue. Hallman said there are 60,000 names in the database so far.
“We’re letting citizens know here in the near future that they’re in the database and they’re not forgotten. We’re going to get to you with some communication, that we have all your data,” he said.
JCDH is one of the multiple vaccine providers. Hallman said that those who registered with the JCDH earlier but have since received their vaccine elsewhere should contact the call center to be removed from the database.
“We’re encouraging people to go anywhere that they can in terms of being eligible for the vaccine. If you have that opportunity and you meet the requirement, be it through UAB or an independent pharmacy, please do so,” Hallman said.
The health department is sharing the information from its database with multiple vaccine providers, Hallman said.
Currently, everyone aged 65 and older is eligible for the vaccine, as well as health care workers, first responders, anyone living in a group setting, anyone working in education or the judiciary, and anyone else who works in a list of jobs deemed to be essential.
But as the list of people eligible for the vaccine has increased, the number of doses allocated to be given has not.
“The vaccine allocation is mainly based on population, trying to be equitable across the state,” Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson said.
“The demand far exceeds the supply so far. We are not keeping pace, and I don’t think anyone is keeping pace, at least not in this area. We’re really glad that the demand is high. It’s encouraging that so many people want to be vaccinated because that’s going to be the key to getting out of this pandemic,” Wilson said. “The wait may be long. It may be several weeks for some people, and we do need to help people understand that.”
The EMA continues to register people online through its website, jeffcoema.org.