Home care and hospice workers are now part of the pool of New Yorkers eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
The New York State Department of Health originally announced that home care and hospice workers would be eligible to receive the first dose of the vaccine starting on Jan. 11. This placed these individuals in the Week 5 group of the state vaccination program.
The department updated that plan last Monday, moving home care and hospice workers to the Week 4 group receiving the vaccine starting on Jan. 4.
This development didn’t just happen overnight. In fact, it was the result of a significant push from New York home-based care associations, Roger Noyes, director of communications at the Home Care Association of New York State (HCA-NYS), told Home Health Care News.
“I would say that is a huge development, and it’s something that we’ve been pushing for several weeks to ensure that there was a prioritization in Phase 1A for home care and hospice workers,” he said. “It took a lot of conversations with the state department of health and the city department of health.”
HCA-NYS is a state trade organization that represents nearly 400 home- and community-based care providers and organizations.
Noyes noted that — because of the infrastructure currently in place, which involves the 10 regional hubs of New York overseeing the vaccination system — the distribution-planning process involved multiple conversations with various agencies and players.
Home Healthcare Workers of America was also part of the overall advocacy push. The organization, which represents over 26,000 in-home care workers, saw firsthand the need for urgency when it comes to vaccination.
“During this time, tragically, we have lost 12 aides from the start of this to the present,” Joe Pecora Jr., the organization’s vice president, told HHCN. “Our members were desperately asking for access to the vaccine. We’re happy that the governor’s office and the department of health have agreed to move up their eligibility. This is a lifeline.”
New York state employs more than 210,000 home care aides, labor statistics show.
Home Healthcare Workers of America is a part of the International Union of Journeymen and Allied Trades (IUJAT). The organization represents workers primarily located in the five boroughs of New York City.
Throughout the COVID-19 emergency, visibility has been a major challenge for home-based care organizations. At times, this resulted in these organizations being overlooked.
Being prioritized for vaccine eligibility represents a shift, according to Noyes.
“Whether it was [personal protective equipment] status or authorization to visit patients in their own homes when there were travel restrictions in place, this has been an issue,” he said. “To now have, at this pivotal stage of the vaccination rollout, home care and hospice workers in early, that is an important accomplishment.”
For now, HCA-NYS has been keeping its members updated on the logistics and procedures for actually getting the vaccine.
It’s a process that has run the gamut, according to Noyes.
“For instance, some agencies, I understand, have ordered the vaccine, and I don’t know whether they’ve received it yet, but they have plans to vaccinate their own staff — to actually have their own agency be the point of dispensing a vaccine for their workers,” he said.
Meanwhile, other agencies have opted to instruct their staff to essentially make their own appointments with the various dispensing hubs that are being set up across the state.
In these cases, HCA-NYS has provided instructions around what information workers need to bring to these appointments in order to prove they’re Phase 1A. Similarly, it has helped its members understand what documentation they need to retrieve from the vaccination site.
So far, New York City’s mass vaccination efforts have gotten off to a rough start.
Despite a surge of new COVID-19 cases, few people have been vaccinated. This has left public health experts concerned, according to reports from The New York Times.
Overall, only 167,949 of 489,325 doses of the vaccine — roughly 34% — have been administered as of Friday. The rate for New York state overall is over 40%, according to The New York Times.
The vaccination rollout potentially creating hiccups that would impact home care and hospice workers is a concern, according to Noyes.
“Home care and hospice workers are now in priority 1A,” he said. “But if there’s concern that the vaccine is not being administered to health care workers at the rate it should be because of hesitancy, … then there’s going to be a big impetus to push through to the other phases. Certainly, there are other priority groups that need the vaccine quickly, but my concern is whether or not this push could squeeze out access for home care and hospice workers.”
Elsewhere, early last week Los Angeles County’s home care companies received confirmation that non-medical caregivers are part of the first group eligible for vaccination.
Prior to this confirmation, home care companies weren’t clear on whether their employees were part of this group, which includes their home health counterparts.
Home health leaders and clinicians in various parts of the country have also begun to highlight their vaccine experiences on social media. That group includes Dr. Steve Landers, president and CEO of the Visiting Nurse Association Health Group Inc.
Senior living operators have ramped up their vaccination efforts as well.
On Dec. 21, for example, Brookdale Senior Living Inc. (NYSE: BKD) announced it had held its first community vaccine clinics, with plans to schedule more across the company’s 726 communities.