Three-quarters of Wisconsinites 65 and older have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, according to the state Department of Health Services. But the remaining 25 percent include some of Wisconsin’s most vulnerable residents.
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Across the state, providers are looking for ways to reach homebound people who want the shots. Efforts are underway in Milwaukee and Dane counties, which are home to more than 20 percent of Wisconsin seniors, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A full quarter of Wisconsinites under 65 who have a disability also live in those two counties.
UW Health Care Direct, the arm of the health system that provides in-home medical care, is in its third week of vaccinating homebound people in the Madison area. These are people who might need lots of equipment, struggle with pain management or require lots of help to leave the house, said Chief Clinical Officer Julie Slattery.
“Because we have thousands of patients and community members that are homebound, we’re really limiting these (services) to those that just really can’t get out to a vaccination site,” Slattery said.
So far UW Health Care Direct has been able to vaccinate about 60 homebound people per week, she said. It can be a logistical challenge.
The agency has been receiving doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and the vials must be used within hours of when they’re opened, Slattery explained. It requires lots of planning when you consider the time spent driving between appointments and waiting at least 15 minutes after each shot to ensure there’s no serious allergic reaction.
The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses, but UW Health Care Direct is expecting to receive Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine, which will be a big help, Slattery said.
For homebound people who haven’t had visitors in months, the service means a lot. Slattery recounted the story of an older man who hasn’t seen his granddaughter since last summer. Even then, he’d been on his balcony, and she’d been outside.
“He was very excited because her birthday was coming up, and he was actually going to be able to get to see her,” Slattery said.
In Milwaukee County, there are still more than 40,000 people over 65 who haven’t been vaccinated, said Dr. Ben Weston, medical director of the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management. A portion could be homebound.
“We do have some homebound vaccinations ongoing currently in Milwaukee County. We are looking to expand that substantially in the near future,” he said.
The Home Based Primary Care program from the Milwaukee VA Medical Center is designed to treat veterans with complex medical needs who can’t easily visit a clinic. Now program staff are administering vaccines too, according to a Facebook post from the hospital.
Big shoutout to our dedicated Home Based Primary Care team members, who are going to Veterans’ homes to give COVID vaccinations. Thank you, HBPC staffers, for keeping Veterans safe!Posted by Milwaukee VA Medical Center on Friday, March 26, 2021
Also in Milwaukee County, Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin delivers meals to about 1,500 seniors and people with disabilities each day. Two weeks ago, the agency began adding a flyer with the number to call for home vaccine appointments, according to Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley.
“The phone number is staffed by Health Connections, which is a local health provider with a special focus on vulnerable populations that traditionally experience barriers to accessing health care,” he said during a March 16 media briefing.
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