At a Central MA. legislative forum in late January, Senator Harriette Chandler asked the agencies present, “What are you doing about COVID?” Thinking that she wanted to know what protocols and practices we have put in place, I proceeded to tell her about our no contact deliveries, quarantining donated equipment off site for 7-10 days and cleaning regimes. She said, “No, I want to know about what you are doing to get the people you serve to places to get the vaccine?” I had to admit we were not doing anything but would think about it.
So, I thought. Although the program has two vans, they’re not insured to carry passengers and we only have a part time temporary driver, so that wasn’t an option. We discussed this at a staff meeting and what we thought was the most useful thing we could do is to provide vaccine information and advocacy.
As a result, starting March 1st, when we deliver equipment, we’ll not only leave the device but a bag that will include the delivery receipt, a program brochure and a flyer with information about where and how to register to get the vaccine. The vaccine information changes pretty frequently so we will need to keep the hard copy updated.
The Central MA legislative forum that I was invited to was one of four that were sponsored by Easter Seals. The others were held in the Metro West area, Greater Brockton area and Western MA. In every forum, legislators spoke about hearing from their constituents and their frustration when using of the state’s website and by people with disabilities about its lack of accessibility. Since the forums, I have “friended” those legislators and when they post information about any COVID or vaccine related information I share it to the REquipment Facebook page. Information is power!
Having family, friends and colleagues with disabilities and having worked in the independent living community for most of my life, I understand the power of advocacy. I have used those legislative Facebook connections to share some of the issues the disability and senior communities are facing on the legislator’s pages. They want to hear from all of us so as they have a weekly meeting with the Baker Administration to discuss issues they can have ” real life examples”. Here are just a few that are on my list:
· Unpaid family caregivers of people with disabilities (of which there are thousands) were not considered in Phase 1 like Personal Care Assistants (PCAs). They need to be vaccinated before the general public.
· The co-morbid list of conditions in Phase 2 needs to be expanded to include people with chronic health conditions such as quadriplegia and other neurological conditions.
· Most people with mobility disabilities who use a wheelchair do not have the means to get to a vaccine site. They may not have an accessible vehicle and they don’t have the funds to pay for a lift equipped paratransit van. A trip from Methuen to Fenway would cost approximately $300. After considerable advocacy by the disability community, MassHealth will now pay for the transportation for MassHealth members.
· There is a huge need to have vaccines administered in the home for those not able to go to a vaccine site for medical reasons. Some are in hospice, some frail and can’t handle the travel and cold, some on bed rest from sores or surgery, and some on oxygen with no portable unit.
· Not everyone can afford a computer and some parts of the state have no Wi-Fi. Glad to hear there is now a call-in number.
· MassHealth should in addition to paying for a member’s transportation to a vaccine site should also pay for transportation to testing sites. People who use multiple aides need access to COVID testing.
If you have an issue you don’t feel has been identified or addressed contact your local legislator https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll pass it on. No promise it will be resolved but I’ll let them know.
In the meantime, while we wait for our turn to get the vaccine, wear your mask, social distance, wash your hands and stay out of crowds. Also, don’t let your guard down as we start to see COVID infection and death numbers go down!