If you are like me, you often wonder why our systems make things so difficult for our older adults to access.

While the number of individuals over the age of 65 with access to technology such as tablets, computers, iPads and smart phones has greatly increased, it is not nearly as far-reaching as other age groups. Our neighbors who fall into this category are often left at a disadvantage and in serious situations like the vaccine distribution. It can lead to heightened levels of stress and anxiety for them.

The Area Agency on Aging’s network serves as the sounding board and access point for older adults in every community in Pennsylvania. From March through December of 2020, we handled 12,000 calls. Some were more serious than others, but each was extremely important. Since the announcement of the vaccine distribution, our call volume has increased to between 150-200 additional calls per day — strictly related to the vaccine.

We were far from unique. Our partners in health care and human services were experiencing similar circumstances and in the case of health care, more intensely.

Another extremely important community group impacted by the roll-out was our locally owned pharmacies. These businesses are not just stores we visit, they are community assets and resources. Pharmacies were overwhelmed with calls and frustrated because they could not serve their communities to the degree to which they were accustomed.

The county commissioners, chief of staff and the aging office were continuously advocating to all who would listen to our concerns and frustration. Recognizing the growing tension and need for a solution, county administration asked the Area Agency on Aging to convene a meeting for the Community stakeholders.

Our plan was to support our partners and make accessing the vaccine easier for our neighbors over the age of 65. An urgent request was sent out to every entity in the county distributing the vaccine. Our community partners rallied within minutes, their response was overwhelmingly positive and, once again, it highlights the ability of the community to come together, set aside egos and opinions and solve a problem.

Superior Care Pharmacy, The Wright Center, Hometown HealthCare of NEPA, DiPetro’s Pharmacy, Scranton Primary, Old Forge Pharmacy, The Prescription Center, the United Way, and several others charted a COVID Vaccine Response Group with Lackawanna County to strategically reach our older adult population and other group that truly falls into the Department of Health’s 1A Category.

Our first step was to engage with Family Service Association of NEPA and designate the 211 system as the one to call by someone over the age of 65 to have themselves added to a single vaccine list and removed from other lists they might be on.

For those of you 65 and older, we have made the process as simple as we could. Simply dial 211 and you will be connected to a trained caseworker. They will ask you where you would like to get your vaccination, if you have a primary care physician, and talk to you about your support network. You will be placed on a list at the location of your choosing and removed from multiple lists. You will be talked through the process and asked a few questions to make sure all of you needs are met or you are directed to help you might need. We will NOT ask you for insurance or financial information. We will NOT need any form of payment. PA 211 also will NOT call you.

I cannot possibly stress this enough: Being on multiple lists is currently hurting everyone’s chances of getting the vaccine quickly and negatively impacting our allocation. We want to help fix that. We want to help you people be on the right list so they can get the vaccine as quickly as possible.

This is a local solution formed in partnership. While the current state of affairs is frustrating for all of us, please know that locally the work has not stopped to correct the problems even if they are beyond our control.

Jason Kavulich is the director of Lackawanna County’s Area Agency on Aging. For more information on services available call 570-963-6740.

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