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Many home health workers in northern Michigan still awaiting vaccines

Taylor Wizner

Mark Beardslee provides in-home nursing for seven seniors in Cheboygan with Comfort Keepers.

As soon as his company told him he could get the vaccine, he contacted his local health department. Beardslee got added to a list and waited.

Beardslee called to check in on his status every week. He says the health department told him he was on a list that went in order of who signed up first. 

Finally, after nearly two months of calling he got an appointment slot in March.

“I don’t know what ever happened to my registration,” Beardslee says. “I don’t know if that was even effective. If they lost it or what. I never got a call until I kept pressing.”

Many home health care workers haven’t received their COVID-19 vaccinations, according to several companies in northern Michigan.

Comfort Keepers, where Beardslee works, says only a third of their employees have been vaccinated.

Logistics and hesitancy about getting the vaccine have delayed shots for many home care workers, and agencies local health departments say.

It wasn’t until the first week of January that home care workers were explicitly identified as a group eligible for the vaccine by the state. But by the end of that week, federal guidelines expanded vaccine access to more front line workers, teachers and seniors. The vaccine supplies were spread among them.

Additionally, companies like Comfort Keepers have several locations spread across the region so scheduling mass clinics doesn’t work for their employees like it might for teachers or seniors in a county. 

Health departments did work with local home healthcare companies to let them know their employees were ellibile and make clear how to get an appointment. But it was up to workers to sign up for the shots.

Beardslee says his repeated attempts to get a vaccine has him worried that other workers are slipping through the cracks. He’s afraid of unknowingly spreading the virus to his patients as he works with several vulnerable seniors.

“There are clients that are going to ask, ‘are you vaccinated?’ And at a certain point they’re going to expect it,” Beardslee says.

But there are home care workers that are less inclined to get the vaccine. The Health Care Association of America recently polled companies and found just 34% of caregivers said they want to get the COVID vaccine.

“We want to do better than that,” says Bethany Ostlund of Comfort Keepers. “I think it’s on us to do the education for the people that are reluctant to get the vaccine.”

Joshua Meyerson, the Medical Director for two northern Michigan health departments, says they are still trying to get healthcare and essential workers vaccinated. He says they will get to home healthcare workers eventually, but right now they are following state guidance — which is giving priority to seniors.

“There’s always going to be some sort of overlap [for vaccinating different priority groups],” Meyerson says. “We don’t need to finish with one group as we start another one.”

He says other reasons why health care and other front line workers may be behind is they deferred vaccination or are recent hires.

Taylor Wizner covers heath, tourism and other news for Interlochen Public Radio.