Brownsville Hospital Offers Vaccinations Without Appointments To Improve Equitable Access. Outsiders Take Advantage.
“It’s not too bad — you just have to move your legs to keep warm,” said Smith, an African-American woman who lives in nearby East New York. “I know some people say they’re not going to take this COVID vaccine, but I think it’s important.”
In a bid to aid equitable access and combat vaccine hesitancy, Brookdale is trying an open-line approach rather than the pre-registered appointments system used by other hospitals.
Although reservations aren’t necessary, phone operators fielding questions are instructed to discourage callers from outside areas. Visitors will also still need to prove their vaccine eligibility by showing identification confirming they are either at least 65 years-old or they’re employed by health care providers, schools, public safety agencies, or other eligible professions.
“Brown and Black people of central Brooklyn who’ve been dying of COVID at disproportionate rates—they’re our top priority,” said LaRay Brown, president and CEO of One Brooklyn Health, Brookdale’s parent network. “It’s a great thing to see such an enthusiastic response.”
Many people on line said they came to Brookdale because neither the city’s nor the state’s appointment systems worked, and they had no more luck signing up by phone hotlines. Or they made reservations, only to receive a cancellation because vaccine supplies ran out at their assigned sites.
Despite the attempt to discourage outsiders, dozens on line hailed from far tonier neighborhoods of Brooklyn or from farther away towns in Nassau, Suffolk, Rockland and Westchester counties.
“I went on every website for days, and I couldn’t get anything — not one appointment,” said James Vitalis, a 63-year-old maintenance worker and cancer survivor from Oceanside, on Long Island. “My daughter heard about this, and we got up and drove in, and God-willing, I’ll get the vaccine.”
The long line embodies the challenges facing Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and public health officials who want to ensure the COVID vaccine reaches vulnerable communities.
“There’s still a great deal of skepticism and concern in the Black community about taking the vaccine,” said C. Virginia Fields, CEO of the National Black Leadership Commission on Health. She worries the cumbersome sign-up process could be one more thing “hurting the cause” of persuading the vaccine ambivalent.
Dominick Stanzione, the CEO of Brookdale University Medical Center, said the hospital was on track to give out about 600 doses of vaccine on January 15th. Like other hospital executives contacted by Gothamist, Stanzione had not heard when more vaccine doses would arrive or how much he would receive.
Stanzione said he wasn’t immediately concerned about people from wealthier neighborhoods coming to get vaccines intended for low-income areas because the hospital was consistently recruiting locals by calling and texting patients in their computer system who meet the eligibility criteria. The medical center is also coordinating similar campaigns through community groups such as senior centers.
”We contacted the community groups we work with and let them know that we would be open during these times to service the community,” Stanzione said. He said the medical center might eventually transition to a reservation system.
He and Brown said they would have staff members analyze the intake data over the last several days and determine, by looking at zip codes, how many people were from Brookdale’s target area and how many were from farther away.
“We’re using open access as an approach now, but that could change, depending on what we see,” Brown said. “One Brooklyn Health must be focused on getting vaccines in the arms of the people who have been the most adversely affected by COVID-19.”
She also hoped broader interest from the community would spread back to her own employees, and said many on the staff have been ambivalent — only 37% at Brookdale and 50% of staff across the One Brooklyn Health network have opted for the vaccine.
“Seeing this groundswell of demand and all these people lining up for vaccine, I hope they would get the message that they better get it now, or there might not be any left,” Brown said.
By: Fred Mogul, WNYC
January 19, 2021