When staff at the Newton Senior Center learned that individuals over 75 would be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, they knew making appointments online and accessing transportation could be challenging for some. In response to these potential problems and in order to better help those in this age group, the center established a hotline to make vaccination appointments more accessible.
When the center initially established the line, it received a high volume of calls from members of the community who had questions about how to make a vaccination appointment and where the nearest vaccination clinic was located, said Jayne Colino, director of the department of senior services. After a week of responding to calls, Colino said the center began to distinguish between calls from residents lacking internet or transportation and seniors with questions about making a vaccination appointment.
“When we first established it, it was really just to kind of respond to the lack of information that came with the governor’s announcement and then there not being anything available for people,” Colino said.
As a result of appointments made through the call service, more than 70 seniors were vaccinated on Thursday morning at the Mount Ida Campus of UMass Amherst.
“I can’t even tell you how many hours of paid staff and volunteer staff time has gone into getting those 70 plus appointments made,” Colino said.
The Newton Senior Center is also entering into a partnership with Holtzman Medical Group, a private medical group started by a Newton resident to provide vaccine access to those in need, according to Colino.
“We have the assurance from Holtzman medical that we will continue to have designated appointment slots for us to help fill for people who can’t do it on their own, or who don’t have the daughter who can sit up at midnight to hop on to the appointments,” Colino said.
Holtzman is designating two days a week, with up to 200 slots per day, for appointments made through the Newton Senior Center for residents 85 and over without access to a computer, transportation, or with a mobility impairment, according to Colino.
When people call the Senior Center hotline, an automated message informs the caller that seniors are eligible for the vaccine and it is available at pharmacies and public places in the city. Callers can leave their name and phone number in order to receive more information and assistance, and volunteers and staff call them back with necessary information about testing.
“Who we were able to help ultimately was people who did not have computer access, did not have family or friends who could help get them an appointment through an electronic platform, and people who really had limited mobility and couldn’t see themselves at Gillette or Fenway,” Colino said.
The center has also helped seniors get rides to Mount Ida through Newton in Motion, or “NewMo,” a rideshare service for residents who are 60 or older.
“We don’t want transportation to be the hurdle that someone says ‘forget it, I’m not going to get the vaccine because I just can’t deal with this,’” Colino said.
Colino said that the center has also been coordinating home vaccination visits with the Fallon Ambulance Service for seniors who are unable to leave their homes for an appointment.
“It’s a limited resource,” Colino said. “We don’t know when vaccines will go away, and it’s going to be about 10 people a week who are able to get those home visit vaccinations.”
While Newton residents cannot currently attend the Senior Center in person, the center’s staff and volunteers continue to offer support and services to Newton seniors.
Over the past year, Colino along with senior center staff and volunteers made over 7,000 calls to check in with every Newton resident 60 years and older living alone, according to Mayor Ruthanne Fuller’s State of the City Address. Colino said residents have been greatly appreciative of these calls.
“We feel, like, you know we’re using our resources in the right way for the people who need it the most. And I have to say I deliberately made a few of the calls myself because I just needed that celebration with people,” Colino said. “That’s what we’re here for, is to decrease people’s anxieties, give them something to look forward to, so when we’re all vaccinated, we can come back together.”
Featured Image Courtesy of John Phelan / Wikimedia Commons