PHOENIX — Lines quickly formed outside the NOAH Health Center Wednesday in north Phoenix. On this morning, dozens of employees are here to make sure the patients they serve daily get the protection they deserve.
“It’s been really impactful to hear all their stories, lots of elderly grandparents who haven’t seen their grandchildren in a year, because of the vaccine now they’ll be able to do more of that, brings us a lot of hope and joy,” said Dr. Connie Tucker, Chief Medical Officer for the federally qualified health center with locations across the Valley.
She says over the past month, NOAH has been contacting patients who qualify in the 1a or 1b priority group to schedule appointments for the coronavirus vaccine. Attacking the complicated process of getting a hold of folks with limited means and access to computers through a variety of techniques.
“We decided we were going to use a multimedia approach for patients, some people like mail, some people have a smartphone, they can answer a text and some people need that warm embracing phone call just to help them through it,” said Dr. Tucker.
“The only time we’re out is to go to the doctor or the grocery,” said Kay Deaton.
The 80-year-old says she’d all but given up on getting an appointment for the vaccine, getting nowhere on the state appointment website despite assistance from her daughter. That’s when she got a call from her doctor, inviting her and hundreds of other NOAH patients her age to get their first dose of the Moderna vaccine.
“I was almost doing a little tap dance in the kitchen when she called,” said Deaton. “Dr. Vivas had her girl call me and say I want you in here, so here I am and I’m so happy, I’ve wanted this vaccine so bad.”
More than 800 patients have gotten the shot at a NOAH clinic over the last week. 250 will get it Wednesday alone.
“We focus mostly on the underserved, which mean patients without insurance, patients without adequate access to healthcare,” said Dr. Tucker.
Data released by the state suggests a significant disparity of those getting the vaccine. Minority communities continue to lag behind. The numbers show the African American population has only received 1.4% of the vaccine so far. Latinos just 8.2%.
“It’s super important to us that people have an experience in their language of preference and we’re able to offer that,” said Dr. Tucker.
The incredibly warm staff was prepared to do just that. Many of them bilingual, standing at the ready to assist the community at six drive-up vaccine tents. Something that wasn’t lost on Spanish patient resident Ricarda Rios.
“For those who understand English, it’s easy but for those of us who don’t understand, it’s difficult to get these appointments,” said Rios in Spanish.
She, like others we spoke with, hopes the Hispanic community continues to see more outreach from state health officials. Adding education and assistance with signing up for appointments is critical to an equitable distribution.
Olga Urias Biaz also got her first dose Wednesday, though she says her mind remains on those who the virus took too soon.
“We lost about nine of them already, my family, a cousin, sister-in-law, brother-in-law,” said Biaz. “They would get sick, go to the hospital, and all of a sudden they were gone.”
It’s a devastating reality for so many. But on this day hope floats above it all. As those who tend to be forgotten, are reminded they matter.
NOAH says they are continuing to reach out to their patients to schedule appointments for the vaccine. When patients get their first appointment, they can rest assured as they will also be scheduled for their second dose at the same time.