WESLACO, Texas – The Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council is struggling to get COVID-19 vaccines to more than 2,200 elderly clients who are too frail to leave their homes.
The issue was discussed at an LRGVDC board meeting this week but the reason the vaccines could not be administered was not explained. It could possibly be an issue of logistics. The vaccines have a short shelf life and there is concern as to whether medical staff could get to the homes of the elderly in time.
LRGVC is the official council of government (COG) for Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties. It has a database of 200,000 elderly people that are registered with nursing homes, assisted living, adult day centers, and home health agencies. It is thought many of these have yet to be inoculated against COVID.
McAllen Mayor Jim Darling is president of LRGVDC. He brought up the subject.
“We have about 2,200 shut-ins in the three-county area who get meals delivered because they are shut-in. We tried to figure out a way to get vaccinations to that group of our population and work with the county, the university, and it is just, for a whole lot of reasons I won’t get into, it is very, very, difficult and so we have not gotten that accomplished yet,” Darling said.
Darling thanked Veronica Gonzales, a vice president of UT-Rio Grande Valley and a member of the LRGVDC board of directors, for her help. Nonetheless, the COG’s efforts to get their homebound clients a COVID vaccine have been to no avail.
Darling said a committee is trying to resolve the issue.
“We are going to put smarter people than me on that committee and we are going to get that done but at this point we don’t have adequate progress. I won’t get into the details of why but there are legitimate reasons why it is very difficult to do it,” Darling said.
Later in the meeting, Manuel Cruz, executive director of LRGVDC, addressed the issue.
“Mayor Darling is spearheading an initiative to work out the details on the inoculation of the elderly, homebound residents. We have been gathering different data internally, externally, on the number of seniors we have out there. I believe he mentioned over 2,000 in the entire region,” Cruz said.
Cruz said LRGVDC has reached out to Hidalgo County for help. “Apparently they have… already the same circumstances or issues have surfaced on their side as far as the extent of the issue that is at hand.”
Cruz said Hidalgo County is grappling with a shortage of vaccines. He said this will “compound the situation, especially the ones that are homebound.”
Cruz then detailed some of the challenges.
“First responders, the medical community would have to personally pay them (the elderly) a visit, go home to home and so here within the COG, luckily we have a variety of resources that we can utilize for this purpose. For example, our Valley Metro has received approval from FTA to use their buses to maybe take the medical community from house to house.”
FTA stands for the Federal Transit Authority.
“By using a bus from Valley Metro we are able to load up more product, more vaccines, more staff to go from house to house to do the inoculations, to help out the county,” Cruz said.
“We are also experimenting with our GIS software where we have identified all of the community centers within the three county area. And currently at this point in time we received about 163 pages, which is over 200,000 seniors, their actual physical addresses.”
Cruz said information on where the elderly live is sensitive.
“We are trying to identify all the locations where the seniors are home or where they reside and try to see what the best approach would be… (to get the) inoculation of these seniors,” Cruz said.
“Obviously, the ones that are homebound cannot travel to the community centers so we are trying to estimate a distance and time. We know these vaccines, their lifespan is only six hours once they are accessed. And, of course, they have to wait 15 minutes after the injection to see if there is any reaction to that.”
Cruz concluded his remarks by explaining the enormity of the challenge.
“It is going to be a monumental task, if it isn’t already, with the current situation but with the seniors I think it is going to compound the effort even more. So, whatever we can do, we are here to help. The resources we have are available to anybody, all three counties, Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy. We are collecting data for those three counties.”
It is not only the COG that is trying to get the elderly and frail inoculated against COVID-19.
Jake White has been a social worker for 50 years. He is best known as volunteer director of Good Neighbor Settlement House in Brownsville. He said he and community leader Mary Yturria are hoping to arrange a meeting with Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr.
White said he sprung into action after hearing from a former board member of Good Neighbor Settlement House who happens to own a day care center.
“He called me and pointed out the people he serves are in wheelchairs. They are in walkers. They cannot get in line and wait three hours to get an authorization for the vaccine. They cannot go to a parking lot and wait five hours for the vaccine. It is physically impossible,” White said.
The day care center owner White was referring to is Abraham Barrientes, owner of Las Jacarandas in Brownsville. Barrientes said he has about 30 patients in his day care center that need the COVID vaccine, plus another 130 or so that his company helps at home.
“We have patients that have chronic conditions that are in longterm care, over the age of 65. I am very grateful to the county for administering the vaccine to all our employees. But, now I have been sending emails left and right to help the elderly, the ones we serve. The people that we service cannot wait in line for hours to get a voucher. They suffer from a variety of issues, incontinence, how can they expect them to wait in line or even in the car?” Barrientes said.
Barrientes gave an example. “One of our clients, Andy, is blind. He does not have family here. He is expecting us to help him get the vaccine,” Barrientes said. “I am sure if we offered it, all 130 patients would all take the vaccine.”
Barrientes said he called the Texas Department of Health and Human Services to see how he could get the vaccine for the elderly he cares for. He said the agency told him to call Walgreens or CVS. He said these pharmacies told him they cannot help at this time.
“I offered transportation. I have four buses and all have wheelchair ramps. I am willing to take them as long as they get inoculated,” Barrientes said.
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