When 64-year-old Savin Hill resident Jeffery Seglin became eligible to receive the Covid-19 vaccine last Monday, he at first struggled to secure an appointment while working full time. After receiving a text from the Massachusetts preregistration system informing him there were no updates to his status, Seglin checked sign-ups at the state’s mass vaccination sites and at local CVS and Walgreens, all to no avail.
Finally, last Wednesday morning, he decided to try calling 311— the city’s hotline for people inquiring about trash pickup, reporting a pothole, or other non-emergencies –-to see if the mayor’s office could help. That service redirected Seglin to a caller at the city’s Age Strong Commission, who helped him arrange an appointment in short order.
“They told me it might be five days until I hear from them, but I got a call back that afternoon, and the woman asked can I do it tomorrow? Do I want an appointment at 1, 2, or 3 p.m. at the Reggie Lewis Center? Then she kept me on the phone chatting for a few minutes while I waited to get the email confirmation.”
The Age Strong staff were “very helpful, amazingly patient, and incredibly efficient,” said Seglin.
Stories like his have been common in recent months, according to Age Strong Commissioner Emily Shea, who described to the Reporter how the commission’s team has pivoted in recent months to field vaccination-related inquiries and provide phone support for the city’s aging citizens.
“A lot of our services were in person, and we shifted to almost everything over the phone,” said Shea. “We set up a call center in our office, getting a lot of our team to change roles and man the phone lines. A lot of calls come into 311 and then get funneled to our office, so we have our team at the call center every day doing intakes and figuring out how to best help folks.”
Since the 75+ age group became eligible for vaccines near the start of the year, Age Strong has focused much of its efforts on that rollout process.
“At the height of it we were getting 800 calls a day, with 500 of those being vaccine calls,” Shea said. “When we’re not fielding calls, we’re calling people to help them schedule vaccines. For older adults, that can mean arranging for a caregiver or home health aide to find a time that works, or setting up transportation so they can get to that appointment. The final layer of that is around language access and making sure we have a diverse team that speaks the language of our residents.”
Through targeted outreach, Shea said, the commission has seen success in breaking down some vaccine hesitancy. Apart from vaccine assistance, over the past year the Age Strong Commission has been doing “a lot of work with food access, working with folks who are feeling isolated, and getting them connected to regular phone calls and other supports they need,” said Shea.
“We were even able to maintain some of our programming with virtual events— for example we held a Black History Month event with a storyteller and a great band,” she noted, “so we’re doing things a little differently, but fortunately we are still reaching a lot of people.”
As more of the state’s aging population continues to get vaccinated, Shea expects that the Age Strong Commission will continue to do a lot of its work over the phone but will eventually be bringing back some in-person services in a safe way as well, in accordance with public health guidance.
The Age Strong Commission provides services and resources to Bostonians over the age of 55. For vaccine registration assistance or more information about Age Strong’s services, call 617-635-4366 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.