AmeriCorps Committed to Supporting COVID-19 Response
As COVID-19 has ravished communities all over the United States, it has left our seniors, ages 65 and older, extremely vulnerable. Amongst this population are those who serve in the Retired and Senior Volunteers Program under AmeriCorps Seniors (RSVP). These volunteers not only are vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 themselves, but they serve their peers who are homebound through various programs such as Meals on Wheels, home shopping programs, providing transportation, and even assisting with medical care for those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. With support from clinical, pharmacy and community organizations such as AmeriCorps Seniors and RSVP, the vaccination rate among those 65 and older has risen to over 91% as of mid-March. “It’s so much less stress. I don’t know what we would do without (RSVP)” says Dorothy Dickey, who is clinically blind and relies on transportation through RSVP.
During 2020, many of the senior citizens in communities around Augusta, Kansas experienced isolation due to COVID-19. As the first eagerly awaited vaccine allocations arrived in January 2021, the Butler County Department of Aging began receiving phone calls requesting assistance with scheduling appointments online. They jumped on the opportunity to help the community, as their primary mission is to link older adults with needed services to ensure a continuum of care. However, they quickly realized that online scheduling was a challenge for many of the older adults who didn’t have access to internet services, and even if they did, appointments were being booked before most could even get their basic information filled into the online forms. Not only that, staffing vaccine clinics increasingly became strained as their staff were stretched thin.
The Department on Aging, sponsor of the AmeriCorps RSVP, offered to have RSVP volunteers serve at the vaccine clinics. Many were very excited to help as they understood the importance of being vaccinated against COVID-19 and were eager for activities to return to ‘normal’ as quickly as possible. RSVP members staffed many of the vaccine clinics that were held over a ten-week period, putting in approximately 100 hours each during this time. Mary Nusz, a retired Registered Nurse, served at least one clinic per week and sometimes performed double shifts per day, helping the Butler County Health Department administer 19,690 doses of the Covid vaccine during a three-month period in 2021. Broderick Bean, Public Health Emergency Preparedness Coordinator elaborated, “Mary provided her expertise without hesitation and still continues to. During our clinics, she was very compassionate to those that she served and took as much time needed to make sure her patients were well cared for.”
As RSVP staff conducted community outreach to recruit people to support their COVID-19 efforts, many became RSVP volunteers during the process. The Health Department opened dedicated clinics for those over 65 and gave permission to the Department on Aging staff to book the appointments for those in the same age range. Overall, the Department of Aging assisted over 4000 seniors make appointments on what would have otherwise been a challenging platform.
The effects of isolation due to COVID-19 impacted communities in Marquette, Michigan as well. The Marquette County RSVP volunteers provided non-emergency medical transportation for isolated seniors aged 60 and over who were unable to drive and didn’t have access to increasingly sparing transportation services. While the rest of the state limited services, twenty-eight RSVP volunteers, seniors themselves, adjusted their work to assist their peers access life-prolonging treatments and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Volunteers were paired with a household to provide ongoing transportation with minimal cross exposure. This specific program instituted PPE policies and trained volunteers PPE use and cleaning measures to minimize COVID-19 exposure. Seniors in chemotherapy, dialysis, cardio rehabilitation, and other life prolonging programs were transported by volunteers following a stringent PPE and cleaning guidelines laid out by this program.
RSVP transporters also assisted in contactless drop-off of PPE and food boxes to isolated seniors throughout Marquette County. With financial assistance from the Federal CARES Act, 1400 kits of PPE items were distributed to seniors all over Marquette County. When COVID-19 vaccines became available, transporters and the clients were already prepared with PPE and training. They were able to take the appropriate COVID-19 precautions to begin transporting seniors to vaccination appointments, in addition to helping them find the vaccine clinics.
The Marquette County RSVP partnered with the local Health Department to plan and provide transportation to a special clinic for seniors and individuals with mobility issues as well. Hundreds of successful transports have been completed as of 2022. RSVP volunteers greet clients, direct them through the clinic, provided monitoring for adverse reactions, and provide emergency assistance in case a client experiences side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine. The Department of Transportation assisted with this effort as well, providing a bus with a lift to assist individuals who were unable to be transported in a car or truck.
To this day, AmeriCorps RSVP Volunteers continue to invest in the nation’s COVID-19 recovery. With existing programs in more than 40,000 locations across the country, they are well positioned to bolster community response efforts. They have played a critical role in helping our country respond to and recover from COVID-19 and hope to continue to do so.
What are you, your health department, or your organization doing to support COVID-19 vaccination in your community? Share your story with firstname.lastname@example.org and you could see it on our COVID-19 Vaccine Community Features page.