- Written by Janis Merrell, Editor of The Good Life
LifePath’s Vaccination Access Program (VAP) is supporting the community by providing assistance with COVID-19 vaccinations to people who do not have internet access, who need transportation to their vaccination appointment, or who are not able to leave their homes to attend a vaccination clinic. The program has been running since early February and is made possible by a group of 36 dedicated volunteers, including 12 people who return voice messages to help people register online for appointments and 24 who have stepped forward to drive people to their appointments.
Knowing how appreciative clients are to have transportation to medical appointments, coupled with the importance of immunization against COVID-19, made the decision a very easy one.
Joan Joshi, 88, of South Deerfield, said she had “no other way to get to Greenfield” for her vaccination appointment as she no longer has a car and doesn’t see very well. “I felt very much taken care of. The very nice gentleman picked me up when he said he would and was very pleasant. It was handled very well and very professionally. I’m very grateful to LifePath for arranging this,” said Joshi.
Arleen Leuthner, 78, of Greenfield, also received transportation to her vaccination appointment. She says she felt “very good” about her experience with VAP and said the people she interacted with were “very knowledgeable.”
Mark Devlin, VAP’s Program Manager, says, “I am honored to contribute to this timely and essential vaccination access work. Together, Lynne Feldman [Director of Community Services at LifePath] and I have developed a process that enables our kind-hearted, internet-connected, computer-savvy volunteers to partner with neighboring elders in need of exactly that type of support at this time.”
One of those kind-hearted volunteers is Jack McKenzie, 67, a thirty-five year resident of Greenfield before moving to South Deerfield over a year ago. Before retiring, McKenzie worked in Direct Marketing for the Channing Bete Company for thirty-six years. “Their publications helped people to make improvements in their daily lives, much as LifePath does. That type of volunteer work is what I enjoy,” explains McKenzie, who has also volunteered since 2017 for LifePath’s Rides for Health program and volunteers at Baystate Franklin. When asked why he wanted to volunteer, McKenzie says it is “a natural extension” of driving for Rides for Health, stating, “Knowing how appreciative clients are to have transportation to medical appointments, coupled with the importance of immunization against COVID-19, made the decision a very easy one.”
McKenzie describes his experience so far as being “very positive” saying, “I think that the clinics are doing a wonderful job, and the staff are extremely friendly, helpful, and patient. I particularly enjoy working with elders and have found the support provided by LifePath to be a tremendous asset to our community.”
Vickie Selleck, who is in her 60s, lives in Buckland, and is a retired electrical engineer, had already provided vaccination registration help to 27 people at the time of our interview. She credits her mother with making her want to volunteer for the Vaccination Access Program. “My mother was my role model. Her life of volunteering and advocating for people in need inspires me to help whenever I can,” says Selleck. Also, Selleck explains, “I'm disabled, so volunteering from my home, in my easy chair, is a good fit for me.”
When asked for anecdotes about volunteering for the VAP program, Selleck recounts the day that Massachusetts opened eligibility to people 65+ years of age and those with 2 qualifying medical conditions, saying, “the experience was frustrating for our callers because of computer systems that crashed and multi-hour wait times at the 2-1-1 number. I was able to assure people that they weren't doing anything wrong, and they weren't the only elders in Massachusetts who weren't able to book appointments that day.”
Selleck says that people have been overwhelmingly positive about the entire process and understand that there are a million-plus people trying to get a limited number of vaccines. “They are grateful for this LifePath program and the volunteers. They say things like ‘I'm just so glad I have a human I can talk to’ and ‘It feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.’ Many of them have been so isolated and afraid (for good reason) for a year, and getting the vaccine will be life-changing.”
Selleck also credits LifePath’s training and treatment of volunteers, saying, “LifePath has provided great support for the volunteers. We had comprehensive training and the LifePath staff and lead volunteers are always available to answer any questions and solve problems.”
“We created the VAP to help older people and people with disabilities get the COVID-19 vaccine so they themselves could stay healthy, resume a more normal way of life, and help create community herd immunity,” says Lynne Feldman, who oversees the program. “Because appointments are so scarce, it may take time, but our staff and volunteers are committed to ensuring that everyone who calls will receive support.” So far, LifePath has helped about 175 people with rides and appointments, with many more people on the waiting list.
Selleck prepares for days when clinics open new appointment slots, so she can call people before the appointments are booked. “The current process for making appointments for vaccination is challenging to say the least. The people who have computers, computer skills, time, and energy to devote to often fruitless searching, and fast, reliable internet, are overwhelmingly the ones getting the appointments. This leaves out many elders and people with disabilities, who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19. LifePath is trying to close that gap. To everyone waiting to get vaccinated: Hang in there and stay positive! I'm confident the systems for signing up will continue to improve. You'll be able to get vaccinated, and by doing so, you'll contribute to the health of your neighbors and friends and the end of the pandemic in our region,” says Selleck.
Anyone who leaves a message on Lifepath’s Vaccination Access Helpline at 413-829-9285 will receive a call back from one of our staff of volunteers when local appointments are available. Please keep in mind that right now, there is little to no appointment availability in our area. While everyone who wants an appointment will get one, it will take time. In the meantime, we can continue to keep each other safe by wearing masks, avoiding crowds, and washing our hands.
- Written by Pat Sicard, RSVP Volunteer Manager for Hampshire and Franklin counties
Since 1973, RSVP, the volunteer connection for people 55 and over in the Pioneer Valley, has helped people share skills and create networks. Over 600 inspired volunteers were serving 65 volunteer sites when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Now with many sites closed to in-person activity, RSVP and its volunteers have become more inventive.
Online support, email, and phone contact is more common now than the face-to-face interaction that is a vital part of RSVP, but three focus areas for service remain in place: helping seniors to age in place, food security, and capacity building. As we look forward to returning to in-person options, the individual approach to volunteering remains part of RSVP operations as much as possible.
Over 600 inspired volunteers were serving 65 volunteer sites when the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Providing support online or via masks and social distance in person, volunteers assist Meals on Wheels, food pantries, SHINE and the VITA Tax Program. Many RSVP volunteers are also strengthening skills or learning new ones as they virtually mentor or provide organizations with computer and technical assistance. They lead exercise classes and social groups virtually, and participate in virtual fund-raising campaigns such as Monte’s March or the Meals on Wheels Walkathon.
Volunteers always benefit from feeling needed and helping the community, but now many RSVP volunteers are using this role to augment skills, connect to potential jobs, and find new networking avenues to paid employment. One RSVP volunteer, Carol K., supplies data support for a LifePath program, which was a springboard to employment at a local senior center. RSVP staff’s personal approach to aid volunteers in reaching their goals may also include an assist toward employment opportunities.
- Written by Janis Merrell
2020 was a very difficult year for nursing home and rest home residents. COVID-19 hit this community of vulnerable individuals particularly hard. That’s why Trevor Boeding, MPH, Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program Director at LifePath, decided to bring joy to as many residents as possible by collecting cards for people living in one of the seven nursing homes and rest homes in the LifePath service area. Cards could be handmade or store-bought, had to be gender neutral, and could not refer to any religious holiday.
According to Boeding, “Residents [at long-term care facilities] have experienced disproportionate burdens of disruption, illness, and death related to COVID-19. Stringent visitation curtailment has led to increased levels of social isolation and physical estrangement from family, friends, and loved ones. In addition, many residents have experienced a great deal of upheaval in their physical surroundings and changes in staffing and routines.”
“I hope that residents get the sense that there are many people in the community who are thinking of them and sending them well-wishes and support.”
Due to the Commonwealth's visitation restrictions, the Ombudsman program has not been able to visit with residents in person on a weekly basis. The program was able to successfully shift to connecting with residents virtually, but this type of connection has posed difficulties and has its own shortcomings.
Boeding was inspired to create the card shower project by a meme his wife sent him that encouraged focusing on love instead of focusing on worry, self-doubt, guilt, and anxiety. “Several hours after I looked at the meme, it just came to me—focus on love. I asked myself how to convey this message of love to residents, and the idea of showering them with cards came to me,” Boeding explained.
People could mail the cards to Boeding, or drop them off at a card donation box left outside LifePath’s offices. According to Boeding, the outpouring of support was “amazing,” with a final tally of 427 cards and 100 hand-folded origami cranes which, according to the website JapaneseSalon.nl, represent good fortune and longevity in Japanese, Chinese, and Korean culture.
Cards were contributed by LifePath staff and volunteers, and by the community at large. While most of the support came from the Western Massachusetts area, cards were received from across the Commonwealth and from as far away as Oregon. Gill Elementary School submitted a number of handmade cards created by students. The Erving Senior Center contributed close to 50 cards.
Enough cards and origami cranes were received for almost each and every resident living in a long-term care facility in the LifePath service area. Cards and cranes were delivered by Wednesday, December 23, to social work and activities staff for distribution at Applewood Home for Elders and Quabbin Valley Healthcare in Athol, Farren Care Center in Turners Falls, and LaBelle's Rest Home in Shelburne Falls. In Greenfield, Charlene Manor Extended Care Facility, Buckley Healthcare Center, and Poet's Seat Health Care Center received cards.
“The Ombudsman program at LifePath sends a great big ‘Thank you!’ to each and every one who contributed to this effort: LifePath senior management, staff and volunteers, community members, and the staff at the local long-term care facilities who facilitated the distribution of the cards and cranes,” said Boeding.
“I hope that the card shower brought some light and hope into the lives of the residents who received them. I hope that residents get the sense that there are many people in the community who are thinking of them and sending them well-wishes and support. I hope the cards also serve as a reminder that, although their Ombudsman has not been allowed to make weekly visits, the program at LifePath is very much alive and well. The card shower may remind residents that the Ombudsman program still cares about the quality of their care and the quality of their lives and is still very much available for advocacy with regard to specific concerns.”
- Written by Janis Merrell
Vaccinations offer hope in ending the pandemic
The end of 2020 ushered in hope, first with the announcement that COVID-19 vaccinations had been approved, and then with the start of administration of the vaccine across the country, including in Massachusetts. We are currently in Phase 1 of a three phase vaccination plan. COVID-19 vaccinations continue for COVID-facing health care workers, and as of December 28, residents and staff of long-term care facilities began receiving vaccinations.
Vaccines have very high safety standards, and the vaccines in development to prevent COVID-19 are no exception.
According to mass.gov, during Phase 1, which will last until February, vaccinations will be administered to individuals in the following order of priority:
- Clinical and non-clinical health care workers doing direct and COVID-facing care (including COVID-19 testers; COVID-19 vaccinators, and support staff for a COVID vaccination clinic; Medical Reserve Corps who are called up to vaccinate or other COVID-facing direct care work; COVID-facing hospice/palliative care professionals; COVID-facing laboratorians; COVID-facing imaging professions; and emergent employees manufacturing COVID vaccine)
- Long-term care facilities, rest homes, and assisted living facilities
- Emergency medical services, police, and fire (including all interfacility transport workers and MedFlight staff)
- Congregate care settings (including corrections and shelters)
- Home-based health care workers (including PT/OT/SLP therapists who work with medically complex home students)
- Health care workers doing non-COVID-facing care (including dentists/dental students, medical students, physical therapists, interpreters who work in hospitals, behavioral health clinicians not already covered in congregate care or direct care, laboratorians, blood donation workers, organ donation procurement workers, hospice/palliative care professionals, imaging professionals, dialysis center workers and patients, audiologists and speech and language pathologists, and podiatrists)
Phase 2 will begin in February 2021 and will last until March 2021. Vaccinations will be administered in the following order of priority:
- Individuals with 2+ co-morbid conditions which put them at high risk for COVID-19 complications (including individuals with cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart conditions, a weakened immune system from solid organ transplant, obesity, severe obesity, sickle cell disease, diabetes, people who smoke, and women who are pregnant)
- Other workers (including early education; K-12; transit; grocery; utility; food and agriculture; restaurant and cafe workers; employees across the food, beverages, agriculture, consumer goods, retail, and food service sectors; meatpackers; sanitation, public works and public health workers; vaccine development workers; food pantry workers; Uber/Lyft/rideshare services/pharmacy delivery drivers, workers in the passenger ground transportation industry; convenience store workers; and water and wastewater utility staff)
- Adults 65+
- Individuals with one co-morbid condition (examples listed above)
Phase 3 will begin in April 2021, when the vaccine is expected to be available to the general public.
The National Institutes of Health (nih.gov) says vaccines have very high safety standards, and the vaccines in development to prevent COVID-19 are no exception. Vaccines are approved by the FDA for use only if they have proven safe and effective in a large group of people.
Although the search for and development of the COVID-19 vaccines is happening very quickly, the FDA has made the safety standards and approval process even tougher than usual. The FDA set minimum requirements for the effectiveness of products to approve only those vaccines that could offer immunity to the majority of the population.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov), a COVID-19 vaccination will help protect you from getting COVID-19. Two doses are needed. Depending on the specific vaccine you get, a second shot 3-4 weeks after your first shot is needed to get the most protection the vaccine has to offer against this serious disease.
While you may have some side effects after being vaccinated, this is a normal sign that your body is building protection. The side effects from COVID-19 vaccination may feel like flu and might even affect your ability to do daily activities, but they should go away in a few days.
Also, cost is not an obstacle to getting vaccinated against COVID-19. Vaccine doses purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars will be given to the American people at no cost. However, vaccination providers may be able to charge administration fees for giving the shot. Vaccination providers can get this fee reimbursed by the patient’s public or private insurance company or, for uninsured patients, by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund.
While COVID-19 vaccines are one of many important tools to help us stop this pandemic, according to the CDC, it’s also important for everyone to continue using all the tools available as we learn more about how COVID-19 vaccines work in real-world conditions. This means that even once we receive both doses of the vaccine, we will still need to cover our mouths and noses with a mask when around others, stay at least 6 feet away from others, avoid crowds, and wash our hands often.
Older adults are playing a critical role in ending the COVID-19 pandemic through their choice to get vaccinated. If you have additional questions about receiving the vaccine, your healthcare provider can help.
- Written by Wendy Iseman, Retired Social Worker and Health Educator
I like to use the words "a perfect storm" to describe disasters. For me, the words mean a gathering of events totally out of my control, poor choices, bad luck, and poor timing. My brother, age 76, who lives alone in a large western city, called to let me know he hadn’t been feeling well for 4 days. He took a COVID test on 11/23. On 11/25 he called with the results: positive.
He took a COVID test on 11/23. On 11/25 he called with the results: positive.
My first thought was ”How do I help a loved one 2,000 miles away?” As a former social worker, I have 35 years of experience ferreting out health information to help my clients. But loved ones are different from clients. With my brother my mind went blank and my stomach churned. I took deep breaths and said to myself, “FOCUS!”
Here is what I learned in hours of conversation over five days with my brother:
He owns a $49 flip phone that makes weird noises and acts funny. He is afraid it is going to die. He has not filled out a health care proxy or living will, ever. He has never put me or his son down as an emergency contact with his primary doctor or any of his specialists, meaning we cannot receive any medical information about him. He has no phone numbers or email addresses for his friends, health insurance, pharmacy, and so on.
My brother does not know anyone in his new apartment building. A week after he moved in last winter, the pandemic hit hard and no one was lounging at the pool or hanging out in the courtyard. The community room, pool, and gym were closed and still are.
Also, his memory and focus were deteriorating very quickly making it hard to converse and make decisions. He had no food in the house. No pots or pans to heat water for tea or fry an egg. He doesn’t own a can opener. He has eaten out for every meal for five decades.
He does not have a thermometer to check for a fever.
He is terrible with technology. He has a rabbit-eared TV, no cable or WiFi. He has never texted, used social media, Messenger, Facebook, or Zoom.
All of these issues combined to create an awful situation for my brother. Without a health care proxy, living will, important phone numbers, documents, and email addresses, all essential communications came to a crashing halt.
This is what I call “a perfect storm”: dangerous and out of control. I begged him for important names and numbers and documents. Due to his COVID-19 symptoms he was very unclear in his thinking; he didn’t understand why I needed this stuff. Why was I asking?
Without food he was becoming weaker. I tried for five days to get a food delivery from a local, nationally known supermarket. There were nice people in customer service, but their delivery system was horrible. For two nights they didn’t show up and on the third night the delivery driver couldn’t find an entry door to the building.
Bureaucracies foul up all the time. It is maddening when one’s life depends on them. By sheer luck a neighbor knocked on his door and helped him get some food.
It has now been over three weeks since this medical calamity began. My brother is still without a health care proxy or a living will. The papers are in the mail. He was in the hospital for two and a half days, but was sent home with oxygen because they needed his bed for a sicker patient.
I finally found a program for elders living alone with COVID-19. He now has hot meals delivered daily. Friends, both his and mine, have called him and written. I speak to him four times a day. I update his son regularly by text. I have researched phones for elders, WiFi and cable. He will be getting a home health care nurse soon to come to the apartment. Phone calls with him are often short. He gets very tired and discouraged. But, he is walking in the courtyard and sitting in the sun. The most incredible thing is he tells me he loves me at every phone call—and I say the same to him. It is the high spot in a horrible time.
So here is a list of things to do that may save you or a friend or family member:
Get a metal file box, a regular file box, or a shoe box and put all your important papers, numbers, and addresses in it. Label the box. Make sure people know where the box is.
Make sure that every person you know and love has a notarized health care proxy and living will that is filled out and in your labelled box.
Keep a list of friends and relatives with addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses.
Make sure all doctors you or your loved ones see have you or your partner or trusted family member down as an emergency contact.
Make sure phones are working and WiFi and internet are available.
Know all the medications and pharmacies used by loved ones.
Research diseases and conditions that loved ones have. Every disease has an organization to educate you. Use them!
Please be proactive. The more you know the better you can navigate all the “systems” thrust on you as a caretaker.
You may save someone’s life by being prepared.