Friday, February 5 was a long-awaited day at Penn-Mar. That’s when some 300 of the individuals we support in Maryland, along with many of our DSPs and team members, voluntarily rolled up their sleeves and received the first of two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Our Chief Operations Officer Jackie Stevens took responsibility for making this day happen and for monitoring developments in Pennsylvania that will enable the individuals in our residential homes and team members there to sign-up for their vaccine clinic.
Jackie and her COVID taskforce have been working on getting the vaccine for Penn-Mar since last November. They submitted Penn-Mar’s application to the Federal Pharmacy Partnership Program in the hope of signing up all of the individuals we support and team members for the vaccine. And while this is a national program, each state is handling the distribution differently which has made things challenging.
Initially Walgreens was assigned to one of our residential homes in Maryland. During the pandemic we have had extremely limited visitation at our homes so we set up a tent with tables and chairs and most importantly – a heater – where 18 individuals and teams members were vaccinated on January 23.
But that still left us with 29 homes in Maryland that needed to be scheduled. We received word from CVS Pharmacy that they were going to set up 15 vaccine clinics in these residential homes over a 4 day period.
Jackie suggested to the CVS clinic coordinator that it might be more efficient to bring our folks to them at our Freeland, MD facility and CVS agreed. The original appointment date of January 28th was postponed by a week due to snow. Fortunately the rescheduled clinic went off without a hitch.
Vaccination clinics were also set up with Walgreens through a partnership with The ARC of Carroll County and Target where people we support through Penn-Mar’s Westminster teams had their first shots. Some 40 of our team members received their first shots after signing up with the Carroll County Health Department.
In Pennsylvania people we support in our community homes were vaccinated on Saturday, February 13th. We typically support some 70 individuals at their PA homes who will need to schedule vaccines through their primary care physicians or another local resource.
Fortunately for us, we have a tireless advocate in Kristen Ahrens, Deputy Secretary at the Office of Developmental Programs (ODP) at the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. She spent a great deal of time working with PAR (Pennsylvania Advocacy and Resources for Autism and Intellectual Disability) and addressing concerns about the vaccine’s availability for providers such as Penn-Mar.
We are not mandating that anyone who works at Penn-Mar or the individuals we support be vaccinated. That decision is entirely up to each team member and our families. Our responsibility is to educate everyone in our organization about the benefits of the vaccine and to make it accessible to as many people as possible.
Almost one year into this pandemic, many of us have contracted the virus or know someone who has; maybe even someone who has died from it. At the risk of repeating a cliché, the vaccine is intended not just to protect ourselves, but also the people we love and support. Let’s encourage each other to get on board.
My hope is that the vaccine will get us all back to the life and freedoms we enjoyed nearly 12 months ago. But there can be no return to normalcy unless we get this virus under control. And the sooner the better!