Homebound and Waiting: Vaccine Push Misses Some Older New Yorkers

Each weekday morning before the pause, Rich DePrima, the fire department battalion chief coordinating the program, said 30 teams of homebound vaccinators, each with a nurse, a data entry person and a driver, have been gathering at a South Brooklyn base before spreading out around the city to reach the homebound.

George Rodriguez, 83, lives alone and is also homebound. He has not gotten vaccinated yet, but he will only agree to an injection if his beloved caseworker from the local community center is there to make him feel safe, he said. And ever since the national pause, he fears getting the Johnson & Johnson shot.

“I only have him, he is my second half,” he said of his caseworker, Albert Bencosme. “I don’t have nobody else. Just him and God.”

A travel nurse provider called Aya Healthcare has been supplying the nurses for the Fire Department’s effort. The city has also begun contracting with other companies, including the Visiting Nurse Service of New York and Zeel, a tech-focused wellness company, in order to speed up vaccinations to thousands of people already on waiting lists. The Northwell Health and Mount Sinai hospital systems each have also made around 550 visits to people already receiving at-home care through their systems, they said.

But the city’s vaccination program also been hindered by red tape, Ms. Brewer and several community-based organizations working with older New Yorkers said.

People wishing to register for a homebound vaccine through the city must fill out an interest form. Then someone from the city is supposed to reach out to each senior to verify they are “fully homebound,” meaning that they cannot leave their home, even with assistance. Then, the representative can schedule a vaccination.

This multi-step process has proved difficult to navigate, and does not line up with the reality of many homebound New Yorkers, said Maria Muniz, program director at Casabe Houses for the Elderly, a subsidized senior building in East Harlem. There are about 30 homebound people in her building, she said, and she filled out a form for each of them. She then gave her office phone number for each, because her residents, many of whom do not speak English well and have health impairments, do not always answer their phones.

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