For the past two weeks, staff at the Harbor Health PACE center on Morton Street have been vaccinating at-risk seniors in Mattapan and neighboring communities as part of recent efforts by Harbor Health Services to stand up clinics at their Mattapan and Brockton senior care facilities.
So far in the state’s vaccine rollout, logistical shortcomings have meant that those who need the vaccine most are often hardest to reach. But making vaccines available at the center’s medical clinic was one way to circumvent some of those obstacles, explained Mardi McMahon, PACE’s clinical director.
“Logistics are a nightmare with this vaccine for anybody. But for the elderly who can’t get on a computer, who aren’t computer-savvy, who have difficulty hearing on the phone, it’s very challenging,” said McMahon.
“But for our participants,” she said, “we’re used to providing care where they are, whether it be in assisted living, in an apartment, or in congregate housing. So that is something we’ve been used to providing. We have home care nurses that go out and make visits on a daily basis to participants as needed.”
Last Thursday, McMahon said they were beginning their second round of vaccinating participants. About 200 clients had already received both shots. She estimated that most participants in the program – roughly 400 in all – will be fully vaccinated by the end of March.
PACE took a multipronged approach to the outreach process, contacting seniors by mail and phone and texting family members.
“The majority accepted, but there were some that declined,” said McMahon, noting that her team followed up a second time with those who had initially opted against receiving the vaccine.
“We don’t want to push people into something they’re not comfortable with, but we like to give people a little bit of time to process it, and as more and more people in the community and their family members were vaccinated, I think they were more willing to accept it.
“We were very fortunate because we’re associated with the health centers— Neponset Health Center, Geiger, the Harbor Health Center— and were able to obtain some vaccines.”
Many seniors who were already coming to the Mattapan and Brockton sites for therapeutic activities, socialization programs, and other services simply made getting the shots a part of their visit. For those who were totally homebound, PACE staff went to their homes and administered the vaccine there. In either case, the clinic provided transportation.
“We do have a lot of participants in assisted living facilities; they were vaccinated by CVS and Walgreens pretty early on. That really gave us a big boost and the ability to say ‘let’s just focus on our people who truly live in apartments, family homes, and what-not.’”
Participants who have already received the vaccine were “thrilled,” said McMahon, who is looking forward to the center getting “back to where we were” before the pandemic.
“We used to have 60-80 people in the center a day, and now we’re down to 25,” she said. “Socialization and other activities we offer are really important, but during this time we’ve had to pick and choose who’s at higher risk and limit who can be there, and we hate to do that.”
Kathleen DiLorenzo, a South Weymouth resident, told the Reporter that she has benefitted from Harbor Health PACE’s services in recent years while caring for her mother, Dorothy Wilson.
“My mom has been with the PACE program for seven years, and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made as a caregiver,” said DiLorenzo. “Quite honestly, if it wasn’t for PACE, she’d be in a nursing home...they always offer great support and in terms of the vaccine, it was no different.”
PACE made arranging for her mother to get the vaccine a quick and painless process, said DiLorenzo. Wilson, 91, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 12 years ago, a reality that would have made navigating registration and vaccination logistics a herculean task for DiLorenzo herself.
“Being a caregiver for someone with complex needs, there’s no time to be on the computer all day, schedule a vaccine, stand in line— that would have been very difficult if not impossible for me,” she explained. “In my mom’s case, she’s a higher need patient...I try to respect her autonomy to the degree possible, but obviously I need to step in and take control of different situations.
“Having a partner in that has really helped to keep her at home and out of a nursing home,” DiLorenzo said. “This year highlighted the value of that, when you consider what was going on in the nursing homes in this pandemic and how fearful everyone has been in that demographic, I had that peace of mind...I feel very privileged to have access.”
For more information about the senior vaccine clinics operating at Harbor Health PACE’s Mattapan (1135 Morton St.) and Brockton (479 Torrey St.), visit hhsi.us.