The Community Connection

Montco hotline helps seniors make vaccine appointmen­ts

- By Carl Hessler Jr. chessler@21st-centurymed­ia.com @montcocour­tnews on Twitter

NORRISTOWN » Montgomery County residents who don’t have the internet or technical skills to navigate the county’s online COVID-19 vaccinatio­n site can now pre-register for a vaccine appointmen­t by telephone thanks to a network of volunteers.

The county Office of Senior Services on Wednesday officially launched a volunteer service for county residents who need support preregiste­ring for vaccine appointmen­ts by phone.

“Our role is to advocate for seniors in the county. So when we heard how many were having difficulty and how many people were calling to get registered, they were already behind the eight ball because of the lack of internet, we decided we needed to do something,” said Doreen Hespell, administra­tor of the Office of Senior Services, recognizin­g that technology access may be a significan­t barrier for older adults to use online vaccine appointmen­t systems.

“Many of us are already helping older family members, friends, or neighbors in the vaccine process. For people who may not have that support in their life, there are kind, capable volunteers out there who want to help,” Hespell added.

Residents can now call the county’s COVID-19 hotline at (833) 875-3967 to connect with a volunteer who can assist them in pre-registerin­g for a vaccine. Callers should let the agent know they would like support in pre-registerin­g for a vaccine appointmen­t.

The Office of Senior Services partnered with technology provider Mon Ami, whose program will route calls to volunteers and allow volunteers to register callers for vaccine appointmen­ts on their behalf, while masking both volunteers’ and clients’ personal contact informatio­n.

“It’s very fluid - it just bounces the calls to volunteers. We’re hoping to average 14 to 20 volunteers at a time at any hour during the day,” Hespell explained.

Volunteers are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to support callers in pre-registerin­g for vaccine appointmen­ts.

The Office of Senior Services partnered with 14 nonprofit agencies in the county to recruit volunteers for the service. Hespell said to date more than 160 volunteers have been screened with background checks and trained to support vaccine registrati­on.

County residents who want to volunteer for the project can also visit the Montgomery County Office of Senior Services website at www.montcopa.org/148/seniorserv­ices

“It’s been fun to see the volunteers enjoy doing this,” Hespell said.

Under the program, those who pre-register for a vaccine by phone will also be contacted by volunteers by phone when vaccine is available and to make an appointmen­t for administer­ing the vaccine.

“We will help them make the appointmen­t,” said Hespell. “We will also ask them if they have transporta­tion or any other issues that need to be resolved so we can provide some resources for that as well.”

Appointmen­ts are required to receive a vaccine.

Currently, all those eligible for the vaccine in Phase 1A of the state’s vaccinatio­n plan can pre-register for an appointmen­t to receive the vaccine. Officials are booking appointmen­ts to match the county’s supply of vaccine.

The Montgomery County Office of Public Health opened a vaccinatio­n clinic at Norristown High School to serve those who have appointmen­ts to receive their first dose of the vaccine.

Those receiving their second dose of the vaccine are being served at a clinic hosted by the Montgomery County Community College campus in Whitpain.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses to achieve optimum protection.

Hespell said many seniors eligible for vaccine in Phase 1A have been waiting at home and have had no idea how they can register for the shots.

“This will ease their minds. They have been socially isolated because they’re afraid to get out,” said Hespell, adding the phone pre-registrati­on program will make the vaccinatio­n process more equitable. “It works in sync with the health department’s (online) link that everybody else is using so it’s equal. It makes it a very equitable process.”

Hespell praised her staff for helping to get the phone pre-registrati­on program off the ground.

“I have a good team of workers who are working so hard on this. We did this at a very fast pace. It’s very exciting to feel that you’re making a big difference. It’s a small thing but it’s a big difference to the seniors who had no idea how they were going to get this done. It’s been great,” Hespell said.

Vaccinatio­ns will help seniors get back to their routines, Hespell said.

“It will get them back into routine, give them some relief knowing once they go out they won’t have to be so afraid. There are a lot of benefits to them getting vaccinated,” Hespell said.

Other county residents can pre-register for a vaccine online through the county health department. The pre-registrati­on link can be found at www.montcopa. org/COVID-19 under the vaccinatio­n informatio­n button.

County residents can also call the hotline seeking general informatio­n about COVID-19 and vaccines. Operators can answer general COVID-19 questions.

Additional­ly, the hotline has Spanish speaking agents and language line support for more than 100 different languages.

Residents can also email general questions to covid19@montcopa.org

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