As a paramedic, Jim McCanns doesn’t usually have the time to chitchat with people on the job — he’s usually there under the worst of circumstances.
But these days, Delaware County’s new Homebound COVID-19 Vaccination Program has McCanns sitting with people while he gives them much-needed relief. Officials launched the program in late March to get vaccines into the arms of those who are unable to safely leave their homes.
“Obviously, everyone wants the COVID-19 vaccine. But not everybody has the ability to safely leave their home to access the vaccine,” said Danielle Koerner, the county Department of Emergency Services’ outreach, access, and functional needs coordinator. “So very early on, we identified the need of people to receive the vaccine, in their home or in their residence. So we conceptually have been thinking about this for several months.”
So far, the county has identified 1,500 residents to serve through this program, which is just beginning to take its first steps.
This week, McCanns visited the Upper Darby home of Lucille Breslin to give her a first dose of the two-dose Moderna vaccine. At age 80, Breslin has difficulties walking and standing, so the idea of getting a vaccine at home was a no-brainer.
“I see my children, but basically I’m homebound — the only place I go is to the doctors,” Breslin told WHYY News, which tagged along on Tuesday’s vaccine visit.
Her daughter-in-law was the one who first brought the possibility to Breslin’s attention. Annette Rech usually reads the newspaper before Breslin, and she spotted an article about the Homebound Program.
Breslin was already on several waiting lists, but nothing was working. So they gave this a shot, and it worked.
“I wanted it for her more than I wanted it for me,” Rech said. “Yeah, I want to be able to see and hug my grandkids. But it’s different for her. I don’t want to hug them and come with the chance that I’m going to bring something home to her.”
McCanns’ arrival at Breslin’s doorstep came at just the right time. The paramedic gave her the rundown about the vaccine and the entire process.
“And this will serve as your record that you’ve been vaccinated,” he said, gesturing toward Breslin’s vaccine card. “Now, there’s an increasing level of importance put on this, especially if you wish to travel. You know, if you want to jump on a cruise ship, you’re gonna need one of these.”
McCanns also handed Breslin a fact sheet and a paper listing the date of her second appointment. The process took about 30 minutes in all, including the mandatory 15-minute observation period.
McCanns is the director of emergency medical services in Haverford Township, and one of two people traveling throughout Delaware County to administer vaccines to homebound people and their caretakers in their own residences.
He credits Haverford’s township manager for seeing the need for him and his deputy chief to spring into action for this program. McCanns administers roughly 20 vaccines a day, and because the program covers caregivers, he often finds himself vaccinating two to three people per household.
“The program is still in its infancy. And as of right now, there’s only a couple of us able to go out and do it. There’s kind of a shortage of paramedics right now. But we are truly working on it to make that better,” McCanns said.
The job is “devouring” people, he said: With multiple paramedic departments losing full-time employees, issues of pay, difficult working conditions, and long hours — it’s deterring newcomers from joining the force.
Still, McCanns said, he values these long-hour shifts when he administers vaccines.
“I don’t do too many 12-hour days anymore, but it was a great feeling — like the feeling we used to get early on, like, ‘Wow, I really made a difference today,’” he said.
Unlike a normal EMS shift, every call in this vaccination program is a “win,” according to McCanns.
Koerner is well aware of the statewide shortage of paramedics, and she said the Department of Emergency Services is working on solutions.
Regarding this particular program, she said there are alternative reinforcements, such as partnerships with home health agencies, that are already being evaluated.
“Right now, we’re working on building up our caches of agencies that we’re working with, we’ve got a really great support in Delaware County of people who are willing to work with us EMS agencies,” Koerner said.
The goal is 500 vaccinations a week through this program.
And there are plans in place to use supplies of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine to help underserved populations, Koerner said.
“That’s a wonderful tool in our toolkit to be able to reach some of these populations who find themselves temporarily unhoused or transient in nature, even including people who are experiencing homelessness but are sheltered right now,” she said.
To get on the list for the Homebound Vaccination Program, phone Delco’s COVID-19 call center at 484-276-2100.
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