Meet the volunteers helping Montco seniors register for COVID-19 vaccines

Nicholas Drago gets a COVID-19 vaccination

Nicholas Drago, a physical therapist form Ardmore, Pa., gets his COVID-19 vaccination at Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, Pa. on Jan. 6, 2021. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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Montgomery County is looking for more volunteers to assist seniors with computer literacy and internet issues pre-register for the COVID-19 vaccine.

“This call came about because of the need, of course, for seniors, who have no internet access or are technically not savvy, not being able to register for the vaccine,” said Doreen Hespell, administrator of the Office of Senior Services.

Since it went live on Feb. 22, more than 1,700 people have been registered through the county’s vaccine hotline.

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The phone line has already garnered hundreds of volunteers, who help fellow Montco residents from the comfort of their own homes. This is all possible because of the county’s partnership with Mon Ami, a technology firm that created software that allows the volunteers to register people remotely.

Therefore, the only things a volunteer needs are a computer and a phone.

Initially, the Office of Senior Services tapped 14 partner agencies and even some of its own employees to staff the phone lines, according to Hespell. The training process takes about an hour, and then a background check is done.

The volunteers themselves come to the effort in a variety of ways: Some are from the partner agencies; others have heard about it through county press releases; and some are students on a work-study program through Arcadia University in Glenside. The result is a diverse volunteer pool ranging from college students to retirees.

Eileen Filice is a volunteer assisting Montgomery County in vaccine outreach. (Courtesy of Eileen Filice).

“It’s been a very good outreach, and the volunteers are really enjoying talking to these seniors, and the seniors are very, very appreciative,” Hespell said. “So, it’s generally been a very positive experience.”

Eileen Filice, a retired nurse from Lower Salford Township, is volunteering with the hotline through Generations of Indian Valley, a nonprofit adult community center that is a partner of the Office of Senior Services.

Filice is active in the Meals on Wheels initiative and saw this opportunity as another way to give back.

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“I guess it seems the retired nurse in me … I like helping people, and this is one way I feel like I’m able to help my community, so I’m glad to be able to do it,” she said.

Since March 1, Filice has dedicated a couple of hours of her day to fielding a few calls from people in need of assistance.

When the call is over, people are generally happy to have the fear of not getting a vaccine lifted from their shoulders, she said.

“They feel relieved that their name is on the list, even though they know it’s going to be a couple of weeks before their name comes up,” Filice said. “And then when the vaccine is available to them, someone will reach out to them to help them … set up that appointment.”

Lucille Daniel is a volunteer assisting Montgomery County in vaccine outreach. (Courtesy of Lucille Daniel).

Lucille Daniel is a retired educator who lives in Ambler. She started volunteering just last week, after hearing during a county COVID-19 update that there was a need for volunteers.

“It’s been a very trying year — over a year for people, and I like to do anything I can to help us to get to some type of normalcy again. So if my volunteering is helping, then I feel satisfied,” she said.

Daniel actually worked in computer education, and she said she knows firsthand about the issues many people have with accessibility and computers, particularly in the age of the “smart” device.

“So I said what an opportunity this would be for me to help seniors get registered because I do know that the older adults lack the knowledge and skill of smart devices and they may have challenges in maneuvering a computer, or they may not even have one,” Daniel said.

Even for callers who don’t live or work in the county, Daniel said she tries to help people in any way she can by pointing them to places where they might be able to get vaccinated, like a local pharmacy.

As of March 13, Montgomery County had administered 231,660 total vaccine doses, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. As eligibility expands, the vaccine registration hotline plans to evolve with it.

“We’re still in Phase 1A. They are going to open this up to people in general who don’t have internet access,” Hespell said.

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