Annual flu shot clinic started with ‘out of box’ thinking


This Thursday, Gonzales Healthcare Systems will host the 15th annual Drive-Thru Flu Shot clinic, the “out of the box” idea started by Gonzales local Mary Jane Williamson. 

“It took my obstinate personality to make it happen.” That’s what former Gonzales Healthcare Systems’ Director of Laboratory Services Mary Jane Williamson says about putting on the first drive-thru flu shot clinic back in 2006.

This year’s event, which takes place from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 7, at the Gonzales Healthcare Systems’ parking lot, 1110 Sarah DeWitt Drive, will mark 15 years of providing this flu shot service to the Gonzales community. 

“The previous flu season was really bad. The numbers were off the charts for how many flu tests the laboratory ran. And I just thought to myself ‘How could we get people to get the flu shot?’”

As the director of laboratory services, Mary Jane Williamson was used to running these seasonal tests. But with so many people sick, she knew there had to be a better way for people to get their flu shots.

At that time, the only way to get the shot was to go to your doctor or clinic. There was no HEB or Walmart pharmacy that offered them. There were simply no other options. But this got Mary Jane’s mind working. Why not a drive-thru? It would be so simple.

She started reaching out to fellow leaders at the hospital, asking their opinions, asking if the hospital had the tools to put on a drive-thru clinic. Could this work? Their resounding feedback was “We think so!”

So a meeting was called to further discuss. And it turned in to a true group effort. Departments included nursing, pharmacy, business office, maintenance. Everyone thought it could be done. Except the current CEO. While he didn’t initially believe in it, that did not stop Mary Jane. Several of the involved department leaders got behind her, verified what was truly needed from a medical standpoint. Forms could be provided, volunteers could set it up, pharmacy could get the vaccine. “It was so neat. Everyone worked together. It was real teamwork,” Mary Jane said. 

Social media hadn’t taken the world over yet, so advertising for the drive-thru clinic was a real “boots on the ground” effort. Occupational Health manager Carney Zambrano and his staff printed flyers on colored paper and walked them to businesses all over town. Word of mouth also took over, and the drive-thru was all the buzz. An ad was featured in the Gonzales Inquirer as well, to try to reach as many Gonzales residents as possible. 

The day of the drive-thru, volunteers arrived early to set up the parking lot. Dietary staff, namely Toni Gonzales, made sure staff had plenty to eat and drink throughout the day. While the hope was for 100 people to come through and get their shot, the day’s total was over 300. A success! “And it was fun!” 

Following that first clinic, Mary Jane says that each year got better and staff got smarter with the process. The clinic has grown, and almost couldn’t run any smoother now. “People load up 5 or 6 people in a car and come through the line”, Mary Jane says. “And each year, the first in line was Kenneth Gottwald. Always so happy to be there.” 

Having been in charge of these clinics until her retirement in December 2015, one could say Mary Jane Williamson has “seen it all.” “We’ve done the drive-thru clinic in the rain, in the cold, in the hot. One time a big thunderstorm came through and blew all the tents away. We were soaking wet. We literally had to use our bodies to cover the supplies.” But as she also noted, “Everyone wanted to be there with the people and represent the hospital.” 

While several pharmacies and locations offer flu shots each year, no one offers a drive-thru clinic. And community members would tell Mary Jane and other staff that they look forward to the event each year. 

In recent years, the drive-thru clinic has expanded to additional locations! A yearly clinic is held at Nixon Main Drug (this year’s will be 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15), and most recently, a drive-thru clinic has been established in Shiner.

The cost of a quadrivalent vaccine for ages 3 and older is $30 or $60 for a high-dose used for ages 65 and older. Cash/check/credit cards are accepted as is Medicare with cards presented at time of service. All individuals who receive a flu shot must wear a mask due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Mary Jane’s opinion, the clinics offer great one-on-one interaction between community members and hospital staff. 

“Its so heartwarming too. All the thank you’s. People are so appreciative that we make it so easy. Now people bring more people!” You can hear the fondness for the event in Mary Jane’s voice. “I’m super proud that the community participated in that first clinic. And I’m super proud of the teamwork and everyone making it happen.” While Mary Jane says she misses the work, she makes it a point to come to the drive-thru flu shot clinic each year. “All the little things made this happen. Shows what you can do when you work together.” 

So while Mary Jane Williamson’s obstinate personality made that first clinic happen, her determination to succeed and her desire to help her community is what has made this drive-thru clinic her legacy.