Aging Matters: Planning for COVID-19 testing

Craig Chopko, Wright Center school based health education coordinator, helps Amos Towers resident Eugene Sheehan, 78, into the facility’s new mobile medical unit for COVID-19 testing last month. Eventually, residents at 55 locations in the community will be able to have free COVID-19 testing, thanks to a partnership with the county and several other agencies.

On Nov. 30, I received a text message from our county Chief of Staff Brian Jeffers. His message was simple and direct: “I need to see you today.”

My priorities for the day quickly changed and late in the afternoon we were finally able to find some time to sit down and discuss his concern. In all the plans discussing how COVID 19 testing would be administered to the community, he did not feel we were doing enough for our older adult citizens and was particularly concerned with those who would have limited abilities to get to a large testing facility.

We met Brian and met with the county commissioners and Brenda Sacco, the county director of planning and economic development. Everyone agreed we needed to do more for our vulnerable older adults. What I was tasked with that afternoon was building a team and implementing a plan to test as many constituents as we could reach.

All of us are at risk for contracting the virus, but some of us are more at risk than others. Also, some of us face different challenges when accessing what we need in the community.

Our plan focused on older adults living in communal settings for a variety of

reasons. Many of these residents have personal care of home health aides coming into their homes who see a large

number of other patients. These residents use shared ride and public transportation more often than individuals living in their own home.

The most obvious reason is the most important one, they live near each other and can spread the virus quickly to an entire building.

Partners is a term I use often. Any agency can have a good program, but more importantly an agency and its partners can change a community for the better. Our partners in the heath and human services community always meet the challenge when called upon.

The Wright Center quickly began

mobilizing their team to be on site with their mobile medical unit. The United Way of Lackawanna and Wayne County, United Neighborhood Centers and

NeighborWorks Northeastern Pennsylvania began to assemble volunteers

and organize their staff to be prepared

to initiate the program.

Internally, Brian Jeffers began discussion to secure testing materials with our public health preparedness coordinator from the Department of Health, Tom McGroarty. Brenda Sacco secured funding and resources for the project and the staff at the Area Agency on Aging began to build reports, contact consumers, prepare contracts and keep organize the sites.

On the afternoon of Dec. 23, Brian Jeffers and I had a call with Tom McGroarty and Danielle Pierre, the COVID-19 testing manager from the Department of Health. After hearing what we proposed and organized, the Department of Health committed enough resources to Lackawanna County Area Agency on Aging to test 55 locations in our community. On Dec. 30, The Wright Center’s Mobile Unit arrived at Amos Towers in Scranton and our team successfully tested our first building.

If you are over the age of 60 and you live in communal setting, we will be coming to you and providing you with a test at no charge and with no copays. You do not have to change your primary care physician; you don’t need to call. A volunteer from the one of the above organizations or a building manager will ask you if you are interested in the test and call you to set up an appointment.

There are no lines. Each participant has an appointment time and will be checked in and tested as quickly and safely as possible.

We have adequate resources to test 55 locations, including Lackawanna County, Scranton, and Carbondale Housing Authority locations, as well at locations like St. Catherine’s and Holy Family.

Locations will be scheduled one week in advance of the testing and will be scattered throughout the community so we can reach all parts of the county. Our efforts will escalate as the weeks progress so we can test as many residents as possible per week. It is our hope we can also use this model to provide individuals with the vaccine when the time comes.

All county departments are expected by our commissioners to be conveners of community partnerships. This undertaking is an example of what can be accomplished through this model. If you are one of the estimated 5,500 residents scheduled to be tested, please be patient. We will get to everyone as quickly as possible.

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