Why Some Johnson County Seniors Are Still Finding It Hard To Get COVID-19 Vaccines
"These people are sitting ducks. I feel really fortunate to have gotten my parents vaccinated, but it wasn’t easy."
Some Johnson County seniors are still struggling to get COVID-19 vaccines, even as the county expands its efforts to vaccinate residents, including those 80 years and older.
Residents in independent senior living communities have not been covered as part of the federal vaccine partnership program administered by CVS and Walgreens.
The federal vaccine partnership targets assisted living and long-term care facilities but has left out independent living communities, which typically have a less regulated level of health care.
Now, residents in independent living communities — many of them 80 years and older, with underlying health conditions and mobility issues — are trying to get vaccinated on their own but finding it difficult.
Residents and their families, along with managers at these communities, worry that they will fall through the cracks as the county expands vaccine eligibility to other groups.
Bob and Helen Hays are both in their 90s and live at Greenwood Terrace, an independent senior living community in Lenexa.
As the Hayses waited to get vaccinated in January, COVID-19 cases at Greenwood Terrace began to rise. Eventually, 15 cases were diagnosed and at least 5 residents have died, according to Greenwood Terrace management. (The community’s parent company, Holiday Retirement, says there are currently 4 active cases there.)
Worried, the Hayses’ daughter Sharon Tafreshi arranged vaccines for her parents through the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, which they got last week after Tafreshi drove them to the county’s vaccine clinic in Shawnee.
Greenwood Terrace in Lenexa is home to roughly 100 seniors, only 20 of whom have received the COVID-19 vaccine by the start of February. Photo courtesy the Johnson County Appraiser’s Office.
But Tafreshi said she worries about other residents who are not physically able to leave the community to get vaccinated. “These people are sitting ducks. I feel really fortunate to have gotten my parents vaccinated, but it wasn’t easy,” she said.
A Greenwood Terrace manager told the Post that at the start of this week only 20 of the community’s roughly 100 residents had received the COVID-19 vaccine so far.
What CVS says
Tafreshi said her parents and other residents expected to get vaccinated by CVS, which conducted an influenza clinic at the community last fall.
However, CVS spokesperson Mike DeAngelis said because of Greenwood Terrace’s status as an independent senior living community, it was “not assigned” to CVS for COVID-19 vaccines.
DeAngelis said CVS has completed first dose vaccine administration to 354 other “skilled nursing and assisted living facilities in Kansas” that fall within its vaccine partnership agreement with the federal government.
What Greenwood Terrace’s parent company says
Holiday Retirement owns and operates Greenwood Terrace, as well as more than 200 other independent senior living communities in nearly 40 states.
Company spokesperson Alyssa Cerrito said in an email to the Post that Holiday has been trying to arrange on-site vaccine clinics at many of its locations around the country and has, so far, secured clinics at 83 sites, though not at Greenwood.
“We believe every resident should have access to safely receive the vaccine in our community without the headache of travel, long lines and additional risk of exposure,” Cerrito wrote in her email.
Not the only Johnson County community with this issue
Mission Square, an independent senior living community in Mission, also says its residents have had trouble getting vaccinated.
As of Friday, Executive Director Vicki Hutchens said just 25 of Mission Square’s 74 residents have gotten shots, many of them — like the Hayses at Greenwood Terrace — with the help of their children, family members or friends.
“Half of our residents are over 80. Many of them have underlying conditions: stroke survivors, cancer survivors. They feel vulnerable,” Hutchens said. “But there does not seem to have been a plan for independent senior housing.”
Push for on-site clinics
The American Seniors Housing Association raised concerns weeks ago about independent senior living communities like Greenwood Terrace and Mission Square not being included in the federal vaccine partnership.
On the first day of Johnson County’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Okun Fieldhouse in Shawnee, residents complained of seniors forced to wait outside in freezing weather. The county later apologized and allowed people coming to get vaccinated to wait in their vehicles. Photo courtesy Laura Ovington.
ASHA president David Schless wrote the Post in an email that the “most efficient” way for residents of independent living communities to get vaccinated is to set up on-site vaccine clinics, instead of relying on residents to find vaccines for themselves.
“It makes no sense to have the residents of Greenwood Terrace to fend for themselves. Kansas and other states should allow this to happen on a prioritized basis,” Schless wrote the Post in an email.
Johnson County and the state’s response
Kristi Zears, a spokesperson for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said facilities like Greenwood Terrace are not covered by federal vaccine programs and that such facilities should “work with local health departments” to get vaccines for their residents.
Johnson County assistant county manager Joe Conner told the Post that the county is “compiling a list of facilities” that did not receive vaccines under the federal partnership program and considering ways to ” get the vaccine to them.”
That includes potentially setting up mobile vaccine clinics at some point in the future, but Conner gave no timeline for when that might occur.
“It absolutely makes sense to try to get these people vaccinated,” Conner said “They are living in apartments and some of them are homebound. We need to keep working on outreach to these folks to get them vaccinated.”
Are you 80 or older and need to set up a vaccine appointment?
The county health department is currently prioritizing those 80 years and older for vaccines.
If you have not done so already, fill out this interest survey to let the county know you want a vaccine.
Once you fill out the interest form, you should receive a follow-up email or phone call instructing you on how to set up a vaccine appointment.
This story was originally published in the Shawnee Mission Post.