Wednesday morning, the New Haven Health Department brought COVID vaccines to the door of those who need it most.
“We wanted to make sure that these particular sites were specialized to meet the needs of community members that may not be able to get out as easily,” said city Health Director Maritza Bond.
They’ve launched a series of pop-up vaccination clinics at city apartment complexes for seniors aged 75 and over, cutting out the need for online registration and transportation, and at the same time increasing access.
“I don’t know, I might have gone to the hospital or the clinic. This is a lot better,” said Juan Gutierrez.
The first was at Casa Otonal in The Hill neighborhood, where Alder Ron Hurt says residents were hit hard by tragedy during the pandemic. He says gun violence, homelessness and health care concerns have been challenges.
“This is a breath of fresh air for this community,” said Hurt. “Most times we’re the last. But we’re the first today. And that means so much.”
He had the virus last March and says it was “touch and go.” He called the Wednesday event emotional as he saw senior residents in his ward get the first chance to be vaccinated against it. Hurt says it brings hope to the neighborhood.
“This means so much to this community who may only have an aide come by and look after them, or their family is too busy. So now we’re giving them that special attention they deserve. They deserve this,” said Hurt.
The city’s COVID-19 vaccination plan focuses on access and equity, and the pop-up clinics reaches a targeted demographic. The health department will host the one-day clinics at complexes around the city for at least the next month, and return for the second doses.
As part of the plan, the clinics will be on Wednesdays when New Haven's public schools are on remote learning. School nurses are then free to staff the vaccinations sites.
The city’s plan is based on strategic partnerships with four groups to maximize reach for all residents when they’re eligible.
“The team is primarily Yale New Haven Hospital, our federally qualified health centers -- so that’s Fair Haven (Community Health Care) and Cornell Scott (Hill Health Center) -- and the New Haven Health Department,” said New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker.
He says each has a specialty. The health centers have a direct connection with their patients and can vaccinate the public. Both centers are reaching out to help get patients registered. Cornell Scott Hill Health Center says those eligible should call them directly to make an appointment instead of registering online.
Yale New Haven Hospital has created two large-scale vaccine sites in the city at Hillhouse High School's Floyd Little Athletic Center and the Lanman Center. Both are able to have 1,500 people or more get vaccinated per day when the vaccines are available.
The Floyd Little Athletic Center was chosen as a large central location in the city with bus service. It draws people from New Haven and from cities and towns nearby.
Mayor Elicker explained the city’s role in the overall plan.
“Our strength is being a little bit more nimble and having the relationships with the community where we can set up these sites,” said Elicker. “We look to our different strengths to make sure we’re not missing anyone and we’re able to most effectively get vaccines to everyone in the city.”
At Park Ridge apartments, the clinic comes as a relief.
“It’s just such a convenient thing for them,” said Katey Ross, resident services coordinator. “I was trying to call and make appointments and there were things available in East Hartford and that’s really difficult for a 70 plus person to get to.”
She says although they interact with residents, her staff is not yet eligible for a vaccine. Having it available for their 80 residents who are at least 75 is a big step.
“It’s important for seniors to get together and be with other people so I’m looking forward to the day when we can all be together again,” said Ross.
She says those under 75 are anxiously waiting for their turn.
Ron Simmet, who lives at Casa Otonal is encouraging everyone to take advantage of the vaccines when they're available.
“When the staff here at Casa Otonal arranged it, I said oh yeah, absolutely yes,” said Simmet. “The danger is in the virus, the answer and the protection is in the vaccine. Take it.”
For vaccination appointment help call these providers below:
New Haven Health Department: 203-639-2245
Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center: 203-503-3000
CT Vaccination Hotline: 1-877-918-2224