By Caroline Lanni
FRAMINGHAM – Some Framingham residents, age 75 and older, have been struggling to book COVID-19 vaccine appointments online, as they are not technologically savvy. Other senior citizens have no computer access, and have yet to make a COVID vaccine appointment.
Now, seniors in Framingham can just pick-up their telephones and dial a toll-free number for support to not only book their first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccinations, but get transportation to the vaccine clinics.
Seeing a need in the community, the MetroWest Pharmacy and the Framingham Coronavirus Community Outreach Group partnered together to make a community-based COVID vaccine and hotline call center available for Framingham residents. The call center will re-launch on Monday, February 8.
Seniors can contact the Framingham Coronavirus Community Outreach Group by calling the toll-free clinic hotline at 833-283-3939, said Nicole Doak, founder of the Framingham Coronavirus Community Outreach Group. They can also email at email@example.com
The center is open Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for Framingham residents.
Volunteers speak English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Hindi.
Shivang Patel, owner of the MetroWest Pharmacy, said his pharmacy does not have access to the vaccine yet, but will have both vaccines available soon. That means the hotline will also be able to administer vaccines.
The pharmacy had to purchase special freezers for the vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna. The Pfizer vaccine has to be kept at a negative degree temperature, Patel said.
“We have not gotten our vaccine doses yet,” said Patel, who is waiting for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to distribute to local pharmacies.
Launched in March 2020, the Framingham Coronavirus Outreach group began providing basic needs during the pandemic. Now, one of the goals is to help make the vaccine available to those in need, but providing assistance with appointments for vaccine clinics.
Doak said she and Patel wanted to “give immediate help” to the community.
The ones that are eligible for the vaccine now are the 75 plus individuals, and some don’t even own their own computers, Doak said.
There does need to be a local number available to diminish the frustration in that population.
“It is very counterproductive to have an online system that requires a level of computer savvy,” Doak said. “We know the value of talking to a live person.”
Patel said specific groups might need more help to receive the vaccine appointments, since most of the applications are online only. Some might not have someone to help them, so they would need that assistance on the phone.
To prepare for the launch of the service, Doak said they put applications online to gather volunteers for the call center.
“This is as community-based as it gets, and it is all about neighbors helping neighbors, said Doak.
She said the volunteers would be assisting with calls to navigate people to make an appointment, but still assist in grocery shopping for some elders who can’t go to the stores.
“A member of the call center in the pharmacy will call patients back and get your patient information and insurance information. This is done by HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability] compliant and secure computer systems,” said Doak.
The online systems are very safe and all the volunteers have had proper training to deal with privacy laws, Doak added.
Doak said the call center would assist with answering questions about the COVID vaccine and assist with getting patients their appointments.
“The Coronavirus Community Group can step in and act quickly, when needed,” said Doak.
The call center and pharmacy makes sure that if patients ask for any specific needs that they meet those needs, like if someone is bilingual, or someone who needs an ASL interpreter, Doak added.
Megan Jaeger, a caller to the hotline, needed assistance for her friend Sean.
“I was referred to call the hotline due to my friend Sean being deaf,” said Jaeger. “He has been putting it off since he would need assistance, going there and communicating to the pharmacy.”
When she called she said she was helped in many ways.
Jaeger said she got to make the appointment through them and got to set up an interpreter for the day of the appointment for Sean.
“The process was super easy and everyone was super helpful,” said Jaeger.
Another patient that was looking to make an appointment was Herb Chasan.
Chasan said the process to book an appointment online was terrible.
“We tried to sign up online for the vaccine slots in Foxborough and we had no luck to get one there,” said Chasan.
Chasan then said he found out about the one opening in Framingham and called to make an appointment there instead.
He added that he had to wait by the phone for a call back, but after that he got a call back for an appointment for both him and his wife Joan.
This vaccine call center has volunteers to assist in so many ways, from transportation to making an email for you to get your paperwork, he said.
Janet Leombruno, a volunteer said, “I have been helping on the phones for the last few days, basically taking calls from frustrated seniors and assisting with lining up volunteers to find open appointments.
“Framingham needs to communicate more clearly about this rollout, and this hotline is one way to get that done. I hope the city will collaborate so we can help more people. We need to be focused on delivering results,” said Leombruno, who is also an elected at-large Framingham City Councilor.
Adelyn Kishbaugh, another volunteer, said, “I think it’s really important to have the hotline available to have equal access to resources for people.”
Volunteer Gale DiRusso, said, “At the time I am just taking calls with patients names and numbers.”
“I knew they needed help, and it feels so good doing it,” she added.
Doak said they are only focused on giving out the first dose of the vaccines, not the second dose yet.
If people are looking for the second dose they must go to the location where they got their first dose, Doak added.
“You need to receive your second dose in the specific amount of days from when you got your first dose, [Pfizer 21 days apart and Moderna 28 days apart, according to the CDC],” explained Doak.
If you get a first dose through their center then you will automatically be booked for your second dose and will be helped to get that second dose, explained Doak.
“We suspect as the healthcare providers and the chain pharmacies continue to receive the vaccines it will be easier to get an appointment and the availability (for the vaccine) will increase,” Doak added.
We will keep on “operating as long as they need to, and as long as people keep calling for help,” said Doak.
Patel said as a “community pharmacy,” they “love to help people.”
Doak said seniors have been very patient and understanding throughout the whole online process, and while she & Patel set up the hotline and call center.
Caroline Lanni is a 2021 spring SOURCE intern. Lanni is a senior communications major with a minor in journalism at Framingham State University. She wants to pursue a media career in broadcast journalism. She is a member of the dance team at Framingham State.