The COVID-19 pandemic has proved devastating for many individuals. One of the most vulnerable and hardest hit groups has been seniors and those who are unable to travel to clinics or mass vaccination events due to various limiting factors including illness or lack of mobility. VNA ensures that these people equitably receive the care that they need regardless of their circumstances. Providing COVID-19 vaccination and testing services within the home setting across the Chicagoland area is one of the ways that VNA serves this vulnerable population. At the time of this article, VNA has given 925 home vaccinations and anticipates that this number will continue to grow.
The Aurora Beacon-News article below from Denise Crosby highlights VNA's dedication to vaccinate the community across our service area, especially those at increased risk of health disparities and individuals who are unable to receive care in a traditional health center setting.
It might not seem like Edwin Biever and Pedro Roque have much in common — they don’t even speak the same language — yet the two men shared a growing concern.
Anxious to get vaccinated for COVID-19, their limited mobility made that task difficult.
Until VNA Health Care came knocking at their doors.
Since the coronavirus pandemic upended our lives, this ever-expanding organization founded 102 years ago in Aurora in response to another pandemic, has provided 31,000 COVID-19 tests; and administered over 33,000 doses of the vaccine, mostly to the underserved in Kane, Will, DuPage and Kendall counties.
And, after working through CDC guidelines that included how to transport the vials of Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson, six weeks ago VNA took its show on the road, going into the homes of those who otherwise would not have access to the vaccine.
For a couple hours on Monday, I was invited to tag along on some of these visits, where I witnessed plenty of gratitude firsthand.
Roque, an 88-year-old great-grandfather of five who spoke through an interpreter, had been anxiously awaiting his COVID-19 vaccine for weeks now. And he expressed genuine relief when Heather Worst, registered nurse and manager of home health and hospice services, pricked his left arm as he sat inside the Union Street home he shares with daughter-in-law Juana and two of those great-grandkids.
Because of diabetes and arthritis, Juana says it’s much harder for Pedro to venture outside. So a year ago, VNA began making home visits every three months for his medical needs. And on this day, after receiving his vaccine, Worst talked to the patient and his caregiver about any additional concerns, even helping set up a visit for a podiatry issue.
A few miles away in a one-bedroom apartment on Oak Street in North Aurora, 78-year-old Edwin Biever, as talkative as Roque was subdued, also expressed appreciation as Worst
delivered his second shot of Pfizer.
While Advocate Health Care is the primary provider for the retired McDonald’s executive, Biever became disillusioned with its vaccine rollout. Still dealing with complications from a stroke he suffered in 2018, Biever said it’s hard for him to stand for too long. And the ride to Elgin where the vaccines were being administered by Advocate, not to mention parking and potential lengthy lines, became additional deterrents.
Instead, Biever put in a call to VNA, which he knew from home visits to his late father-in-law, and these appointments were immediately set up.
Adapting quickly to the needs of the most vulnerable, officials say, is what VNA is all about. Founded in 1918, this organization originally known as Aurora Child Welfare Clinic Association that started with one nurse and some volunteer doctors, eventually morphed into what is now VNA Health Care, a full-service provider that has 16 locations in a four-county region dedicated to the underserved, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.
According to Chrissie Howorth, Vice President of Philanthropy and Communications, 63% of VNA patients are Hispanic; 13% African-American and 4% Asian. Another revealing set of stats she pointed out: 1.6 million U.S. adults 65 and over may have trouble accessing the vaccine because they are homebound; with 51% facing at least one additional barrier such as living alone or lacking technology.
Even before starting this recent program, VNA has been on the front lines throughout this pandemic, Howorth said, administering over 31,000 COVID tests and 38,000 doses of the vaccine so far.
VNA was founded on the philosophy that it “has to be quick and nimble” to meet the ever-changing needs of those they serve, noted Sonny de Rama, Vice President of Innovation and Business Development.
“You would think a global pandemic would change that,” he added. “But it really provided an environment where VNA has always thrived; finding out what needs are and adapting to meet them.”
During the pandemic, that not only included a quick pivot to telemedicine, it meant keeping up with in-person visits, hospice and home-based care. VNA also provided drive-through clinics for diabetes and high blood pressure; and “catch-up” clinics for those who had put off other visits because of the pandemic, said Howorth.
Plus, “nobody told the babies there was a pandemic,” she added, referring to the 1,600 newborns delivered by VNA last year.
The organization, headquartered on Highland Avenue, also has a social worker dedicated to removing barriers and connecting individuals with services, Howorth said. And as recipient of a pandemic health worker grant, VNA is in the process of hiring 48 new employees to help residents navigate services.
With 210,000 patient visits a year -- 74,000 unique patients -- the challenge remains meeting the high demand for home visits. And that doesn’t just apply to the elderly or those not physically capable of leaving their houses, Howorth said. Some people might work three jobs so it’s hard to schedule an on-site appointment. Or they could have transportation problems or social anxiety that affects mobility.
By the end of the day on Thursday, Worst and a half dozen colleagues will have provided 925 home vaccinations. But delivering those shots, I saw, is not always as easy as a knock on the door. For example, that second stop took longer than expected because Biever lives in a large gated complex that made locating and accessing his apartment more complicated.
These little hurdles are a frequent occurrence, admitted Worst, who had to convince a manager to allow entrance. “But in the end, we find a way to get where we need to be.”
Six weeks into the program, the good news is the waiting list for home vaccinations has become “manageable,” Howorth reports. And those who receive the shots really do feel a relief, considering the isolation and anxiety they have been experiencing for such a long time. In many cases, getting vaccinated, she added, “means being able to see family again.”
While Biever was able to get together with loved ones at Easter, being fully inoculated is giving his social life a shot in the arm.
In an apartment complex this size, people don’t always stay around for a long time, he told me. A couple of his good buddies moved in the middle of last year; and not being able to even sit outside and chat with others has hampered that ability to make new friends.
That’s why he was more than ready “to get this done.”