Vaccine outreach available locally to home-care patients | Health News | #hospice | #elderly | #seniors
CONWAY — Visiting Nurse Home Care & Hospice of Carroll County and Western Maine has a mission to enable independent living and to keep seniors in their homes as long as possible.
That’s why they recently started a COVID-19 vaccination program to reach home-are patients who might not be able to make it to a vaccine clinic.
VNHCH Executive Director Sandy Ruka, RN, said they recently held a strategy session around that topic with the state Department of Health and Human Services and the Home Care, Hospice & Palliative Care Alliance of New Hampshire.
“We wanted to be certain that these elders in our community were accommodated and not overlooked between state and regional public health networks,” she said. “NHDHHS Commissioner Lori Shibinette asked state home care agencies to contact patients to determine who required services and compile a list of those in need.”
VNHCH’s COVID-19 Vaccine Response Team — Ashlee Chaine, Jennifer Robinson, Anita Duncan, Lindsey Kafka and Sandy Ruka — put together a plan.
Ruka said the process is more complicated than administering a regular flu shot. “It requires entering patient information into VAMS (the CDC’s vaccine registration portal). With the help of our volunteers, we called over 200 of our patients last week to determine if they were homebound and required a vaccine.
“We are also more than happy to vaccinate homebound people who are not current clients. There is a ‘homebound’ option for callers to the 211 vaccine hotline. We will then be able to use this list to identify our patients and others in the community that we can make arrangements to go out and vaccinate,” Ruka said.
Chaine and Robinson handle the technical pieces to lessen the burden on the nurses. After each vaccine dose, they’ll be in touch the following day to ensure they can address any vaccine side effects.
It’s not just scheduling logistics that are challenging — the handling of the vaccine itself is time-consuming and precise.
Ruka said: “Once we open that vial, we have six hours to get out and administer doses. We have to think through where we need to drive, how many nurses are available and how many doses.
“Our service area is large, and we may need to travel far. Depending on these logistics, we may only be able to do no more than a few patients a day. Adding to the time crunch is the 15-30 minute observation period required after administering the vaccine,” she added.
The VNHCH team has quickly become experts in the proper handling of the vaccines, including using a “conditioned” water bottle that is frozen, then partially melted so there is still ice in the center of it. The conditioned water bottle keeps the vaccine cold but not too cold.
The VNHCH staff transports the vaccines with these bottles in a cooler along with digital data loggers. These devices use a probe that sits inside the cooler, placed in a liquid that mimics the temperature of the vaccine.
Ruka said, “Our nurses monitor the data reader outside the cooler the whole time they are traveling. It’s amazing.”
The homebound vaccination program will offer whichever vaccine is supplied by the state, be it Moderna, Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson.
The CDC recommends people take whatever vaccine is available to them.
VNHCH will not know which vaccine they will be receiving but are prepared to administer any type of vaccine. The nurses will also be carrying any needed medications to promptly treat any unexpected adverse reactions using the same emergency protocols that all vaccine sites have available.
Ruka said that their efforts could not happen without the support and collaboration of such Carroll County’s N.H. Public Health Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Victoria Paige and Will Owen, emergency preparedness coordinator at Memorial Hospital.
Memorial is allowing VNHCH to store vaccines in its pharmacy refrigerator.
If you are a current client, VNHCH will call you to make arrangements to administer the shot. But you do not have to be a client of VNHCH to take part. Just call 211 and ask for the “Homebound Program.” They will coordinate with VNHCH to coordinate scheduling.
VNHCH can also vaccinate caregivers of homebound clients ages 50 and up as of March 25. For more information go to vnhch.org or call (603) 356-7006.