A Hamilton senior has had to turn down two COVID-19 vaccine appointments because of accessibility concerns.
Glenys White, 98, has limited mobility and uses a walker to get around the house.
“It’s hard for me to walk out of the bedroom,” White said in an interview. She would like someone to vaccinate her at home.
Katherine Livingstone, a neighbour of 20 years who helps White with her meals, tried to book White’s vaccine appointment when the city first opened its hotline for residents 85 and older. When she got through after multiple tries, she was told White would have to travel to St. Joseph’s West 5th clinic to get her shot.
Livingstone explained White’s mobility challenges, but the operator didn’t know what to do, Livingstone said. She went ahead with White’s registration and asked to pass along her request to be vaccinated at home.
“Someone called me a couple of days later and said we have an appointment for her the next day,” Livingstone continued. “Again, she would have to go out, and I said, ‘Well, that’s just not possible.’”
Livingstone sent an email explaining the situation and was told that White would be added to the registration list. When she received a second call to book an appointment, Livingstone brought up the mobility concerns again, but said there was still no accommodation for White.
“It’s important that elderly people like Glenys who have chosen to stay in their house aren’t left behind,” Livingstone said.
“It seems that everyone’s having (the vaccine), so why not me?” White asks.
“Mobility should not be a barrier to receiving the vaccine,” said a statement from public health spokesperson James Berry. On Tuesday, public health said they were learning from the province “how to transport one dose at a time in order to go into a person’s individual home.”
A City of Hamilton tweet on March 9 showed a patient receiving a vaccine in his vehicle. Asked about this tweet, public health did not explain how someone could request this accommodation.
Berry said the city will launch up to five large-scale clinics across the city, mobile and on-site clinics, mobile bus clinics, rolling clinics and drive-thru clinics to deliver vaccines. “Our Hamilton health-care partners are working diligently to administer vaccines to our community’s most vulnerable,” the statement said.
Hamilton’s vaccination plan released to the city’s board of health in February describes “rolling clinics” as a potential way to distribute vaccines. A bus would drop off vaccinators to individual homes. The clinics would target residential-care facilities and other congregate settings, and residents living alone who receive home care.
Livingstone noted that, other than her limited mobility, White is physically and mentally fit, so she doesn’t have home care.
Others have also expressed concerns around vaccine access. Tracy Ennis of Fort Erie brought her parents, who are both 90 years old and use walkers, to the West 5th clinic on March 9 for their vaccines. Her father had received hospital care in Hamilton, so both he and his wife were given appointments. Ennis described having to wait for an accessible parking spot to become available before walking her parents around to the entrance — a trek that required her father to take three breaks before reaching the door.
Once they got inside, Ennis said they then had to walk to an elevator. “Dad was so tired he had to sit down and I had to push him in the walker,” she said. She continued pushing him on the second floor to get to the vaccines.
“Not only were they exhausted, but I was,” Ennis said. She doesn’t look forward to repeating the process for their second doses.
She thinks the vaccination clinic should be on the ground floor and the hospital should have wheelchairs lined up outside for patients to use.
St. Joe’s spokesperson Maria Hayes said in an email that beginning March 4, a “satellite vaccine station” was set up on Level 1 at the West 5th campus’ entrance “for those who would struggle to get to the main vaccine clinic on the second floor.”
Ennis, however, said no one told them about a satellite station and there were no signs directing people there when she took her parents.
Hayes also said administrative spaces such as classrooms, a conference area and library were picked for the vaccine clinics because “we believed these areas would have the least impact on other daily patient services, and would be the least disruptive to patient care.”
She noted that wheelchairs are available at both entrances of the hospital and “we have many wayfinders who are very willing and able to transport patients to the main clinic.”
Maria Iqbal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator