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Home health care workers having little success getting access to COVID-19 vaccine

Workers in 'blind spot' for vaccine rollout
Posted at 5:25 AM, Feb 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-23 07:21:13-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Home health care workers are among the front-line workers covered under Gov. Ron DeSantis' executive order granting access to the COVID-19 vaccine. But Contact 5 has learned few workers have had success getting access to vaccination appointments.

"I'm on a waitlist in several different counties," Patrice Gagnon said in an interview with Contact 5, adding that she still hasn't been vaccinated.

Gagnon is a registered nurse and cares for some of South Florida's most vulnerable neighbors, right in their homes.

"The job I do is to help people and make them healthy, or at least give them the best quality of life that they can have," Gagnon said.

Gagnon told Contact 5 the stress of potentially catching coronavirus and infecting one of her patients weighs heavily every day.

"It doesn't ever go away, [and] it's always on my mind ... the majority of my patients are immune-compromised, which puts them at higher risk for infection," she said.

"If I took all of that away from them because of this, that's just a horrible feeling to live with every single day ... every day, it doesn't go away," Gagnon said.

Patrice Gagnon treats patient at her house
Home health care worker Patrice Gagnon treats a patient inside her house.

"Home health care workers are in the blind spot," Kyle Simon told Contact 5.

Simon is the director of government affairs and communications for the Home Care Association of Florida.

"The vast majority of agencies we're hearing from throughout the state are saying that just a small portion of their workforce have actually gotten the vaccine," Simon stated.

There are more than 80,000 home health care workers in Florida, according to Simon. But it's unclear how many have been vaccinated.

A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health told Contact 5 in an email that home health care workers are included in the health care workers vaccination effort, but the state is not tracking how many home health care workers have received the coronavirus vaccine.

"It's vital that they actually get access to this vaccine," Simon noted.

John James, with the Health Care Emergency Response Coalition in Palm Beach County, echoed those concerns.

John James
John James with the Health Care Emergency Response Coalition of Palm Beach County speaks with Contact 5.

"A lot of the home health agencies and ancillary providers who aren't affiliated with hospitals are having difficulty getting the vaccine," James told Contact 5 in an interview.

Contact 5 asked DeSantis at a news conference Friday in Palm Beach County if he's doing anything to assist home health care workers. The governor did not answer our question.

"[I'm] doing everything in my power to keep them out of hospitals, and I still can't get vaccinated," Gagnon said.

"If I did work in a hospital or if I worked in a long-term care facility, I would've been vaccinated by now," Gagnon noted.

Patrice Gagnon
Home health care worker Patrice Gagnon speaks with Contact 5.

Like so many other hospice and home health care workers, Gagnon is forced to wait and wonder and is scared for those who need her most.

"It really hurts my heart to think that I could be harming the very people that I take care of, and it's simply because we got left out; this group of medical people got left out," Gagnon said.

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