Some Rural Health Providers Worry For Oldest Patients As Vaccine Registration Begins
New Hampshire residents 65 and older can sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine Friday, either online or by calling 2-1-1. But some North Country health care providers are concerned their oldest residents might find themselves at the back of the line for this phase.
Patty Couture is the chief operating officer for Coos County Family Health Services, which serves more than 3,000 patients who are 65 or older. She says many of those patients, especially those over the age of 75, don’t have internet access or an email address.
“When I look at my list, we start at the oldest at age 98, and I’m just concerned that many of our elderly won't be able to get through 2-1-1, and they’re going to go without the vaccine. My heart breaks,” she said.
In a press conference Thursday, Gov. Chris Sununu said that wait times to make an appointment through 2-1-1 could be an hour or more.
“We very likely are going experience maybe even tens of thousands of phone calls in a single day. It will be one of the largest call center undertakings that we’ve ever had, so again we just really want folks to be patient,” Sununu said.
But Couture says she’s worried that with those wait times, her older patients might get discouraged, hang up and not call back. She says it feels like those who are less digitally savvy are competing for spots with those in phase 1b who are.
Ken Gordon, CEO of Coos County Family Health Services, says he believes the registration system was designed with equity in mind.
“But [it was] also mechanized as much as it could be as well, and it unintentionally favors some over others,” he said.
Across Grafton County, senior centers have been updating their clients about the vaccine registration process when they drive through to pick up meals and in daily calls with homebound residents who participate in Meals on Wheels.
“We’re just spreading the word wherever we can,” said Kathleen Vasconcelos, executive director of the Grafton County Senior Citizens Council.
In the southern tier and Seacoast, Lamprey Health Care’s Chief of Clinical Services Sue Durkin says she’s also concerned about patients that don’t have computers at home or may simply not be comfortable with signing up for an appointment online.
Lamprey will have staff on site to enroll patients through the state's online portal.
"We can have our care coordinator sit down with them and actually take them through the process of enrolling and doing the online portal. But, you know, we have limited resources, " she said.
But Durkin says that the biggest barrier for the state at the moment is the limited vaccine supply it’s getting every week - about 17,000 doses.
State officials say about 300,000 New Hampshire residents qualify for vaccination under phase 1b.