Dozens of Latino seniors have received their COVID vaccinations, thanks to a partnership between the archdiocese and a Philadelphia-based pharmacy provider.
Some 100 older adults rolled up their sleeves for the first jab of the Pfizer immunization at a March 19 clinic hosted by archdiocesan Catholic Housing and Community Services (CHCS).
The agency teamed up with Centennial Pharmacy Services for the event, which took place at CHCS’s Norris Square Senior Community Center.
A second clinic was held immediately afterward for more than 50 residents of nearby St. Francis Villa, one of CHCS’s five affordable senior housing complexes.
Both Norris Square and St. Francis Villa support largely Spanish-speaking clients, an “underserved population” in the COVID vaccine rollout, said CHCS director Heather Huot.
“It’s important to have events like this in spaces that they know, with staff that they trust and with whom they have a relationship,” she said.
With bilingual employees at both sites, language barriers were not an issue in receiving the doses – a crucial factor in overcoming “vaccination hesitancy,” said Centennial owner and president Lindsay Dymowski-Constantino.
“We give them the information and register them in Spanish,” said Norris Square director Bethzaida Butler.
Such clinics in senior residences and community centers also eliminate transportation difficulties for older adults, said Dymowski-Constantino.
“Many, especially in our Hispanic, Black and Brown communities, don’t have access to cars,” she said. “On public transit, they don’t feel safe, and they don’t have family members who are able to bring them somewhere.”
Centennial has been providing individual CHCS housing residents door-to-door medication deliveries for more than a decade, she said.
In addition, the organization has “been offering flu clinics throughout the city to senior homes for several years,” she said. “So it was very easy for us to take what we’ve done historically with flu clinics and translate that to what we needed to do for COVID.”
Huot credited Centennial – which has long delivered medications to CHCS housing complexes – with devising a “wonderful way” to reduce anxiety and mobility issues while vaccinating CHCS’s senior residents.
“We set up chairs outside each of the apartments, and the pharmacists came down the hallways,” she said. “You can’t get much simpler, or easier on the residents, than that.”
Dymowski-Constantino said she and her coworkers were dedicated to providing “(vaccine) access in a way that’s comfortable and relatable” to seniors.
For her, the commitment is personal.
“I’m Catholic,” she said. “I went to St. Adalbert School (now Our Lady of Port Richmond) and then Bishop Eustace High School in New Jersey, and I’m a member of Christ the King Parish in Haddonfield. So I know how important it is to give back to your community, and especially the most marginalized people within it.”
Genuine, sustained concern is essential in meeting seniors’ needs, especially during a crisis, said Huot.
“We’ve been there for them throughout COVID,” she said. “We’ve been delivering meals to them, making phone calls every week to check in and see how they’re doing. So it’s not like out of the blue we’re calling and saying, ‘Come get a vaccine.’”
In fact, getting the shots was a kind of reunion for the Norris Square clients, said Butler.
“They are returning here, full of joy,” she said, admitting the occasion had for her prompted a few happy lágrimas (“tears”). “This is their second home.”
As he waited in the post-vaccine observation area, Pedro Garcia seconded that.
“I know everyone here,” said Garcia, who worked at the center for 34 years prior to his retirement. “It’s easier and closer (than other sites), and everything has been good, organized.”
The vaccinations are also helping families to reunite after months of COVID restrictions, said client Maribel Baez, a member of St. Michael Parish in Philadelphia.
“I feel so grateful that I received my first dosage today,” she said. “Now I can see my grandchildren weekly.”
“Una actividad muy linda,” said Garcia. “An excellent activity.”
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