HACE Implements Safe and Effective Mobile COVID-19 Vaccine Education and Distribution Among Senior Residents
Bilingual Outreach Results in 1,600 1st & 2nd Vaccine Doses Administered to Staff & Residents
ELIZABETH – Mar. 29, 2021 – The Housing Authority of the City of Elizabeth (HACE) has administered 1,600 first and second COVID-19 vaccine doses to staff and residents, successfully vaccinating its senior resident population. These seniors reside in buildings operated by the housing authority, some of whom needed bilingual services. HACE went to great lengths to ensure outreach was provided by first identifying the challenges to vaccinating older adults in the city’s public housing buildings and overcoming these challenges through utilizing cross-sector partnerships for the resources necessary. Vaccines were administered to many who were initially hesitant but assuaged by the HACE team’s personalized outreach.
Public health officials and distributors faced a myriad of barriers and challenges in ensuring access, particularly older adults who are most isolated and vulnerable of the eligible population. As long-term care facilities began to administer vaccines, seniors in communities across the state were uncertain how to secure their own vaccines for themselves.
In partnership with advocacy efforts such as that with LeadingAge, a non-profit organization with over 5,000 members that are dedicated to an America freed from ageism, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was able to include senior buildings in public housing in the eligible category. Even with the convenience of bringing the vaccine clinics to the housing buildings, the challenges of mobility impairments and chronic illnesses required service providers to think strategically. Many older adults remain hesitant to be in crowded places, as they have been advised of social distancing protocols for months during the past year.
The management team at the Housing Authority of the City of Elizabeth knew that putting together a plan to safely vaccinate all interested residents would require creative planning to serve this diverse population of older adults. Understanding their local population and anticipating a level of reticence from the senior residents, the HACE team utilized an all-hands-on-deck approach in COVID-19 vaccine outreach. HACE assembled a large and diverse team of its own staff to assist onsite, including top administrators, property managers, maintenance staff, and office workers, ensuring enough familiar faces to put residents at ease and enough bilingual interpreters to translate vaccine instructions.
In preparation for the planned clinics, HACE staff went door-to-door to assist with registration paperwork and to individually address their concerns and questions which reassured senior residents who were initially hesitant about the vaccine. It was beneficial for residents to interact with staff who were also receiving the vaccine, as HACE staff was eligible for the vaccine under New Jersey’s Healthcare Personnel category. Residents with mobility issues and those uninclined to attend events in the lobby, whether for fear of the virus or other social qualms, were also given the option of in-home vaccine administration.
“Senior management to maintenance staff from various sites worked alongside each other,” stated HACE Deputy Executive Director Cathy Hart. “I feel that the amount of staff that were recruited or volunteered is a hallmark of the dedication and care of our staff. One reason we incorporated staff from across the HACE system was partially because of the need for bilingual people on hand to provide assistance, from assurance to paperwork. Many of the staff were doing work that was outside their typical roles and skill sets and we’re so proud of what we have all accomplished together.”
HACE relied on community partnerships, due to the strain on the health care community, since healthcare staffing was already in high demand in critical areas. The team looked in unlikely places such as the existing relationship with the City of Elizabeth’s community police division and emergency medical services for assistance, enlisting their services since they are trained in CPR and emergency response. This guaranteed a sufficient number of medically-trained staff for anyone who had an adverse reaction. HACE held clinics at all five senior buildings: Farley Towers, Ford-Leonard Towers, Kennedy Arms, J. Christian Bollwage Towers, and O’Donnell-Dempsey Towers. The vaccine crew was led by the pharmaceutical team, and stations were set up in the lobby as well as mobile administration going door-to-door. Doses were administered in the comfort of the residents’ homes, and staff stationed throughout the floors to monitor for any adverse reactions. The success of HACE’s vaccine clinics are rooted in personal connection, knowledge of the population, and support from their community partners. HACE thanks all those involved in the vaccine clinics including the CVS and Walgreens pharmacies who administered the doses, as well as the City of Elizabeth and the Elizabeth Police Department – Community Policing Division.
On the importance to seniors receiving the vaccine, “The vaccine cards are a ticket to seeing family and loved ones again, a step towards a return to normalcy. We heard many personal stories to this effect, after such a long time facing social isolation,” said Margaret Church, LSW, Jobs Plus Program Case Manager at the Housing Authority of the City of Elizabeth.
There are several barriers senior and minority groups face with the current vaccine system which include access to technology and transportation, mobility impairments, education on the safety of the vaccine, and lack of social supports. Exacerbated by low vaccine supplies, not everyone who has been eligible for the vaccine has been able to receive it. In addition to educating and providing a support network to senior residents, the Housing Authority of the City of Elizabeth is also combatting the technology barrier. In October 2020, HACE distributed tablets and showed senior residents how to use them via training sessions.
In November 2020, HACE was also awarded a grant for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2020 ConnectHomeUSA Community Cohort, in order to provide access to low-cost internet, devices, and training. HACE is continuously helping seniors overcome the technology barriers (access to internet, cost of devices, and digital literacy) which empowers them to access resources, including medical care. Residents who anticipate needing to access medical care online, such as future vaccines, will be able to mitigate technology barriers.
HACE has assisted in sharing information to residents of Union County regarding where they can sign up to be vaccinated. The Housing Authority of the City of Elizabeth educated the community by providing the registration link to the Trinitas patient portal site to more than 10 agencies that serve Elizabeth and Union County, particularly those agencies that serve the most vulnerable populations and senior citizens.
For more information on HACE's vaccination clinics, contact Cathy Hart, HACE Deputy Executive Director at 908-965-2400 ext.105.
About the Housing Authority of the City of Elizabeth
Since its formation in 1938, the Housing Authority of the City of Elizabeth has worked diligently to meet the housing needs and improve the quality of life for all the residents it serves. The Housing Authority of the City of Elizabeth is responsible for over 1350 units of public housing and delivers a broad range of services ranging from social, economic, educational, and redevelopment. For more information about HACE, visit www.hacenj.com.