The COVID-19 crisis has had far-reaching effects on nearly every dimension of how we live and work in our communities. While federal, state and local governments have taken measures to contain and respond to the pandemic, many Area Agencies on Aging and other aging and disability community-based organizations (CBOs) have stepped up their efforts to provide emergency response to individuals in their communities. As the public health crisis persists, so too does the attention on vaccine distribution and support, COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and providing accurate information as a means of controlling the COVID-19 pandemic. The focus on these interventions and methods has shown that further collaboration and communication at the community level are needed to support public health systems through this challenging time.
The Aging Network is playing a pivotal role in meeting the nation’s goal of vaccinating the most vulnerable populations first. Once vaccines became available, AAAs across the country began supporting older adults and, in many cases, people with disabilities, in their communities by promoting and facilitating access to the COVID-19 vaccine. They have tapped their existing infrastructure to provide education and outreach on the importance of vaccination, assistance navigating overburdened and overcomplicated vaccine scheduling systems, and supportive services that help older adults keep their vaccination appointments.
OUTREACH AND EDUCATION
As trusted sources of information, resources and support in their communities, AAAs are well positioned to provide guidance to those seeking information on COVID-19 vaccination, particularly older adults and people with disabilities. AAAs are actively engaged in outreach and education regarding eligibility, scheduling vaccine appointments and providing information on the safety and efficacy of the available vaccines. Because of the nature of their work in their communities, AAAs are also poised to deliver targeted outreach to underserved populations of older adults.
In Ohio, for just one example, AAAs have been designated as key partners to help supply information regarding COVID-19 vaccines. Area Agency on Aging District 7, a AAA that covers 10 counties in Ohio, provides older adults seeking the vaccine with community-specific vaccine information. Ohio District 5 Area Agency on Aging hosts a vaccine information line to help answer questions about the COVID-19 vaccine. (See more examples.)
MAKING THE APPOINTMENT
Overburdened and overcomplicated vaccine appointment scheduling systems have hampered older adults’ ability to secure needed appointments. AAAs have stepped in to provide assistance to older adults navigating complex scheduling systems to secure appointments. Because all AAAs offer information and referral/assistance services and are equipped with the skills to triage calls, provide age-friendly customer service and offer case management to coordinate care across many avenues, this work is a natural fit and is in line with the work they already do.
Aroostook Area Agency on Aging, a rural AAA in Maine, runs a call line that helps older adults coordinate a vaccination appointment. In the two first weeks of operation, Aroostook AAA received more than 650 calls and helped coordinate more than 300 vaccine appointments. In Indiana, which has a centralized system run from the state level, the AAAs have proactively reached out to their client base about vaccine availability, documented home-bound individuals who need in-home vaccinations, disseminated public information about the vaccine and its availability and are a secondary call center for registration help. (See more examples.)
FACILITATING THE APPOINTMENT
Understanding the COVID-19 vaccine and making a vaccination appointment are hard enough. Yet older adults and people with disabilities face even more barriers when it comes to keeping their appointments. AAAs are providing supportive services such as transportation, personal assistance and case management to help individuals keep their vaccine appointments.
Like many other AAAs, Indiana’s Thrive West Central’s Area Agency on Aging not only provides assistance with vaccine registration but also provides transportation so older adults can make it to their appointments.
In Massachusetts, AAAs built upon their existing transportation contracts to offer transportation services to current clients as well as other residents age 60 or older. Massachusetts AAAs are also providing supportive services at vaccine clinics in HUD Section 202 housing, case management services to homebound and other older adults needing additional assistance, translation services and more. (See more examples.)
REACHING VULNERABLE POPULATIONS
More and more AAAs are partnering with public health to facilitate in-home vaccinations, a necessary service that is not yet available widely in all places in the U.S. Yet AAAs know where many of the older adults who will need the most assistance given their client base. This has proven critical in many areas that the most vulnerable or at-risk older adults are identified and vaccinated.
In South Carolina, for instance, most AAAs are locating homebound seniors and providing their contact information to county emergency management officials so they can facilitate vaccine distribution to older adult in their homes. A AAA in Utah, Davis County Senior Services, is actively recruiting homebound older adults and working with home health and hospice providers for additional referrals, then scheduling mobile teams. The AAA also works to identify other social services needs these older adults may have in the process by routing them through the agency’s information and referral system, as well.
GETTING INVOLVED IN VACCINATION EFFORTS IN YOUR COMMUNITY
Steps your CBO can take to get involved in COVID-19 efforts at the state or local level:
- Review resources from the Administration for Community Living such as the COVID Vaccination FAQs for the Aging Network to learn more about vaccine administration.
- Find out what isn’t working as well as it could in your service area. Are there gaps your agency would be well-positioned to fill? How much capacity do you have to contribute?
- Identify which public or private organizations or health care entities your CBO could partner with on pandemic-related activities and reach out to them. Find out what they need and be clear about what your CBO can offer.
- Develop education and outreach material to inform older adults and people with disabilities about vaccination in your community. Use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 Vaccine Communication Toolkit for Community-Based Organizations: Getting Started to help get your organization started.
AAAs and other aging and disability CBOs have always been able to rise to the occasion to meet the needs of their communities; the COVID-19 pandemic is no different. CBOs can serve as crucial connections between the community, local health officials, health care providers and other key decision-making authorities. It’s clear that aging and disability CBOs can and are integral parts of combatting the pandemic in their communities. And by proving their value to the health sector during this crisis, engaged CBOs will be better positioned for longer-term partnerships and contracts that are aimed at improving the health of older adults and people with disabilities.
This blog post was written by the Aging and Disability Business Institute using data compiled by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), its parent organization. For more examples from the field, see n4a’s compilation document and Notes from the Field profiles.