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Palm Beach County health director says home health care workers need to 'be patient' for COVID-19 vaccine

Workers having trouble accessing vaccine, Contact 5 investigation finds
Dr. Alina Alonso speaks at a news conference in Feb. 23, 2021.jpg
Posted at 1:21 PM, Feb 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-24 20:34:27-05

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — "Get in line" and "just be patient."

That's the message from Palm Beach County's top health official to home health care workers who are having trouble getting access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Contact 5 reported Tuesday that home health care workers are caught in a "blind spot" in the vaccine rollout.

In response to our story, Dr. Alina Alonso, director of the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County, recommended "when they set up their appointment for the person they're taking care of, if they're over 65, that they call at the same time and make an appointment for their health care worker."

Contact 5 spoke with Dr. Alonso Tuesday afternoon outside a news conference announcing a new COVID-19 vaccination site in Palm Beach Gardens.

Contact 5 Investigator Michael Buczyner speaking with Dr. Alina Alonso, director of the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach county, on Feb. 23, 2021.

Alonso was sympathetic to the issue, sharing that her family is facing a similar situation.

"My mom herself has caregivers in the home, and we're worried about that, so we got my mom vaccinated. But, not all of them have gotten vaccinated, so I totally understand where they're coming from," Alonso told Contact 5.

Alonso noted those home health care workers aren't the only ones seeking the COVID-19 vaccine.

"We're taking them as healthcare workers, so, there's a waiting list for those 65 and over also. The waiting list is unfortunate, but it's necessary because of the large number of over 65 we're trying to do," Alonso said.

Contact 5 shared the story of Patrice Gagnon, a registered nurse and home health care worker who cares for our most vulnerable neighbors.

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

Gagnon said she still hasn't been vaccinated, despite being "on the waitlist in several different counties."

"How would I be able to live with myself if something happened to one of my patients because I wasn't able to get vaccinated and do my job?" Gagnon asked.

Contact 5 shared Gagnon's concerns with Alonso.

"Well, she needs to be practicing everything before the vaccine, wearing her mask, maintain the distance, washing her hands," Alonso said in response.

The problem is widespread, according to Kyle Simon, 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 said. "Home health care workers are in the blind spot."

There are over 80,000 home health care workers in Florida, according to Simon. But it's unclear how many have been vaccinated, as the Florida Department of Health is not tracking how many home health care workers are getting the vaccine.

Alonso said she understands the frustration of those home health care workers."

They're doing a wonderful job and they're doing a job that many people can't do. My hat's off to all of them. Get in line, get in the waiting list, and we will get you vaccinated," Alonso said.

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