Helping The Elderly APRIL 2021
Ava Weinstein, 16, and her sister, Lily, 15, wanted to help their grandparents schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment. The Rosalyn, New York, sisters said their grandparents, Allen Resnick, 82, and Sheila Resnick, 79, “kept getting sent in circles” when trying to make an appointment.
So, Ava and Lily took a smartphone and laptop and spent all night looking at websites, texting, and making calls, only to end up “getting sent in circles” like their grandparents.
After three frustrating days, the sisters found a pair of appointments at a medical center in Bronx, NY. The Weinstein sisters are just one example of hundreds of volunteers nationwide helping seniors overcome the many obstacles of getting a COVID-19 vaccination.
Without federal guidance on how to distribute the COVID-19 vaccines and not enough federal dollars to fund vaccine distribution and administration, states had to devise their own distribution strategy.
The haphazard distribution plans, however, placed barriers to getting vaccines—particularly on seniors who lacked transportation and are on the wrong side of the digital divide. Seniors who were used to scheduling appointments in person or by making calls were unable to make a COVID-19 vaccination appointment at sites that were only scheduling appointments online. Not wanting frustrated seniors to give up, family members, friends, and strangers are stepping in to help.
Volunteers to the Rescue
When Parkland residents, Russ Schwartz and Katherine Quirk realized the frustration South Florida seniors were having scheduling COVID-19 appointments, they set up a “South Florida COVID-19 Vaccination Info” page on Facebook.
The page was intended to be a “one-stop-shop” for seniors. But, Schwartz, a school principal, and Quirk, a registered nurse, soon discovered it would be easier for them to sign up seniors themselves since older adults were not in the habit of checking social media and using smartphones to make appointments.
The task, however, was daunting. So, Schwartz and Quirk put out a call for help and quickly signed up 120 volunteers. While “very proud” of the volunteer help, Quirk said the project has been overwhelming.
In Northwest Washington, D.C., Marideth Sandler was online scheduling a COVID-19 vaccination appointment when she noticed a timer in the corner of her screen. As Sandler, 69, answered detailed questions on the registration form, she noticed that available appointments were disappearing. The appointment process, she realized, was designed for registrants to act quickly. It was “clearly a matter of speed,” Sandler said.
Sandler said some of her friends noticed it, too. And, some even asked her how to manage the registration process. Sandler said this is when she realized that she could help other seniors in the District sign up for a vaccination appointment.
Paul Feiner, the town supervisor of Greenburgh, in Westchester County, New York, wanted to find a way to help older adults in his town who do not have access to the Internet. So, Feiner asked for the contact information of seniors in his jurisdiction, including those who had low income. Next, Feiner asked for volunteers to reach out to each senior on the list and help make vaccination appointments.
Feiner said he expected about five people to volunteer. But, to Feiner’s amazement, 175 people signed up. “I am blown away,” he said.
Ways to Help Seniors
People who work with older adults say it’s essential to address concerns that seniors have about getting vaccinated.
Stacey Malcolmson, president, and CEO of Senior Source, a nonprofit that helps older adults in Texas, said seniors have many concerns, such as:
- Not having access to the Internet to make appointments
- Having eyesight or dexterity issues, which make it more difficult to register for an appointment on their smartphone
- Fear of leaving home during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused some to feel isolated
- Lack of transportation to COVID-19 vaccine sites
Seniors also question whether there is a cost for the vaccination. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the federal government provides the vaccine free of charge to everyone living in the United States.
In addition, Malcolmson said many seniors still have concerns about the vaccine’s safety. For instance, some people are distrustful of the medical community while others question the safety of the vaccine.
Without addressing senior’s concerns and correcting misinformation about the vaccine, seniors might decide not to get vaccinated, Malcolmson said.
Local Pharmacy Tackles Vaccination Problems Head On
Alex Lavella, the owner of Hilltop Pharmacy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, knew that there was a “high demand” for the COVID-19 vaccine. Lavella, said she did not want to turn away seniors who were desperate to get vaccinated. So, she took action to make things happen.
Lavella reached out to the Allentown Business Association for help. Within a few days, more than 25 medical professionals, medical students, pharmacy students, and other volunteers signed up to schedule 25-45 seniors every 15 minutes,
Meanwhile, Lavella found a recreation center in Peters Township, a suburb of Pittsburgh, that could accommodate a large group. She talked with officials there about holding a vaccination clinic. Then, buses were rented to take residents from a senior citizen high-rise apartment in Pittsburgh to the clinic in Peters Township.
The seniors were more than grateful for the multigroup effort. Denise Chappel said she had been inside for the last 10 months. So, she was excited to be able to get vaccinated. “This is a game-changer in life, everyday life,” she said.
Meanwhile back in New York, the Weinstein sisters offered their help to residents living in their grandparents’ building who wanted to schedule an appointment. So far, the sisters had a list of about 50 people, including a 96-year-old resident. The sisters believe a “much simpler” sign-up process is needed. Ava said most of the residents she talked to wanted to get vaccinated but “couldn’t figure out how to get an appointment.”