To understand why a couple of big nonprofits in Orange County are offering low-cost rides to some seniors to get the coronavirus vaccine, consider the plight of Loretta Brown, 82, and Al Schulman, 74.
Earlier this month, Brown and Schulman believed they were set to get their second COVID-19 shots at the Soka University super site. But neither of them drives any longer, so the siblings, who live together at a Laguna Niguel apartment complex, lined up a ride for the first leg of their trip through a medical transportation service that had been provided through their health insurer.
On the scheduled day, they made sure to be waiting outside their apartment building early for their 7 a.m. ride.
Turned out their punctuality didn’t matter.
“We were standing and waiting and waiting,” Brown recalls. “Nobody shows up.”
Brown called the service several times over the next half-hour, worried about missing their connection to a shuttle bus that would take them to Soka. But each time Brown called, the service kept saying, “We’re working on it.”
Finally, at 7:45 a.m., the driver called from Santa Ana to say he’d be there in a half hour. That, Brown said, was no good.
“I told the guy, ‘I’m supposed to be there now … No need in coming.’”
But the busted trip had a silver lining.
When she called Sea Country Senior and Community Center to find out when the next group trip to Soka would take place, Brown learned about getting a ride through Age Well Senior Services, a nonprofit in Lake Forest that serves older people in south Orange County.
“They said somebody from Age Well will pick you up, take you to get your shot, stay with you, and bring you back to your apartment.”
Two days later, on Friday, April 16, that’s exactly what happened.
“It went great,” Brown said. “He came a little bit early. He’s a real nice driver. I think his name was Joe.”
The ride service provided by Age Well, along with a similar outreach from Meals on Wheels Orange County in other parts of the county, has been crucial in helping homebound seniors who might not have any other way to get to their COVID-19 shot.
It’s not a large number — so far about 2,000 people have been given rides between the two nonprofits — but the service targets the most frail in a segment of the population that faces the highest risk from COVID-19. The assistance starts even before the ride begins, securing vaccine appointments for older people who might be challenged by technology or physical and mental ailments.
In some cases, caregivers or family members who live with the seniors have been able to come along and get their shots as the eligibility pool has broadened.
“Part of our mission and vision is to help the community,” said Gio Corzo, vice president of home and care services for Meals on Wheels Orange County, which is based in Anaheim and serves north and central Orange County.
“It’s important to be the point of contact to facilitate those appointments.”
Both Age Well and Meals on Wheels provide federally subsidized, home-delivered meals to isolated seniors, along with lunches at community centers and other services, such as wellness checks, adult day care and, yes, transportation.
In order to get the vaccine rides off the ground, the county needed to lend a hand. The Health Care Agency and Office on Aging worked together to provide smaller, easier-to-navigate vaccination sites in addition to the super sites that posed logistical problems for seniors and disabled people. The Office on Aging also lifted its 15-mile limit for its transit service contracts, and has worked with the Othena app developers to include a feature that lets seniors reserve a ride at the time a vaccine appointment is confirmed.
Beginning in early January, Meals on Wheels partnered with community health clinic Families Together to coordinate small vaccine events for up to 100 people at a time. The organization also worked with others — Alzheimers Orange County, Innovative Housing, the Dayle McIntosh Center and Age Well — to bring seniors to those clinics.
During the waiting periods, before and after shots were administered, staff members even do some hand holding for the more frail or anxious seniors.
“They needed comfort,” Corzo said.
So far, the changes have helped get shots into the arms of homebound seniors wherever their appointments are, said Steve Moyer, chief executive officer for Age Well.
“That allows us to get the senior population vaccinated as soon as possible.”
The county’s Health Care Agency also has arranged shots at home for vaccine-eligible residents of any age who meet at least one of the following criteria — they can only able to be transported by ambulance and stretcher; are on a ventilator; have such severe behavioral issues they can’t leave home.
So far, 23 people have been vaccinated at home, said public information manager Jessica Good.
‘We got our shots’
As of April 16, 79% of Orange County residents 65 and older had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Health Care Agency. Age Well and Meals on Wheels said rides to vaccination appointments will continue as long as needed.
Meals on Wheels surveyed 1,200 seniors who get meals delivered and found that 76% have been vaccinated and 19% declined the COVID-19 shot. The organization is working with another 5% who want a shot but still need help to get one.
Since late February, Age Well has driven about 500 seniors to more than 20 vaccination sites.
“For us to be able to transport them, they have to live in our service area,” which runs from Irvine south to the county border in San Clemente, Moyer explained. In late March, as more vaccine sites opened, Age Well saw an uptick in demand.
The nonprofit is partially reimbursed for each ride, through tobacco tax and Measure M revenues. For Loretta Brown and her brother — who’ve lived together for about 20 years and rely on Social Security for their income — the roundtrip to Soka cost a total of $8, at $2 per person each way.
Brown was happy with the vaccine trip.
“We got our shots,” she said. “They’re over with.”
- Go to myagewell.org to find out about the Age Well Senior Services transportation program or call 949-855-9766.
- Information on Meals on Wheels Orange County can be found at mealsonwheelsoc.org or by calling 714-220-0224.
- Abrazar Inc. transportation services, which works with Meals on Wheels, can be reached at 714-893-3581 or visit abrazarinc.com.
- Contact the Orange County Office on Aging’s multilingual toll free line at 800-510-2020 or visit officeonaging.ocgov.com.
- Anyone who meets the county’s criteria for an in-home shot can call the OC COVID-19 Hotline at 714-834-2000 for assistance.
Source: Orange County Register