SUMMIT COUNTY, Ohio — Frontline healthcare workers have been everyone’s top priority for COVID shots since they first arrived in Ohio around Christmas.
That’s why we were surprised when a home healthcare business, Synergy HomeCare of Broadview Heights, reached out to News 5 saying it tried to get its employees vaccinated during the Phase 1A roll out and couldn’t find a place to get the shots.
After a few phone calls to health departments in a few counties, News 5 connected Synergy Homecare of Broadview Heights with Summit County Public Health, getting the employees on a waitlist for vaccine shots that will hopefully be available in the next few weeks.
It was one of the first pieces of good news Synergy Homecare of Broadview Heights’ Director of Operations David Sanshuck got in his search for COVID-19 vaccines.
“We cannot keep social distancing as we’re taking care of people, feeding them, dressing them, bathing them,” Sanshuck said.
That’s why he said he started reaching out to various counties and state health officials as soon as the vaccine became available in Ohio.
He said he was told multiple time that his workers weren’t included in Phase 1A, which covered all other healthcare providers, because his employees didn’t work in hospitals or long-term care facilities.
“My reaction was amazed,” Sanshuck said. “We’re in healthcare, we’re taking are of the elderly, the highest risk group.”
Learn more about Ohio's vaccine phases here.
When News 5 asked local county health departments, we found that Sanshuck and his employees probably were included in Phase 1A but might not have been prioritized behind other healthcare workers, opening up the possibility for mixed signals.
“There’s a lot of room, unfortunately, for miscommunication,” said Summit County Health Commissioner Donna Skoda.
Skoda said her staff was vaccinating home care staff like Sanshuck and his employees along side other medical personnel as part of the Phase 1A vaccinations, but that other counties he reached out to might have been handling their vaccine supply differently.
“Each county is uniquely different with the priorities and some have been able to include groups that others have not just because they didn’t have enough vaccine and they had too many of the other groups,” Skoda said.
Once News 5 connected Skoda and Sanshuck, his employees were able to get on to waitlist for make up vaccine days in Summit County that Skoda’s office is pulling together for Phase 1A workers who weren’t able to get vaccinated before.
Those make up days uncover an additional wrinkle in the vaccine rollout: New vaccines are intended for new phases of eligible Ohioans.
Starting Feb. 1, Ohio’s vaccine supply is intended for Ohioans 70 years and older as well as school staff, meaning that many communities are limiting or ending vaccinations for healthcare workers.
Trump administration Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said phased rollouts weren’t intended to end vaccine distribution for earlier phases and later ones opened, but limited supply has made it necessary for local officials to make decisions about who would get the supply those counties have.
So, Summit County’s make up vaccine dates will depend on how much vaccine supply Summit County receives.
Skoda hopes that she’s able to schedule the first one in the middle of February.
“I honestly think that a lot of people are starting to come around and think, ‘You know, I better take something,” Skoda said.
She thinks that vaccine hesitancy among healthcare staff members early in the vaccine rollout is starting to melt away because so many of their co-workers got the shot and didn’t have major side effects.
“If it’s offered to you right now, that’s like winning the lottery,” Skoda said. “You should take it.”
That’s how Sanshuck said he and his employees feel about it too, and that if they have the chance, they’re ready.
“I know almost every employee I have would be running down there and getting it in a heartbeat,” Sanshuck said.
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