The Nevada County Public Health department has been at the forefront of COVID-19 response in Nevada County since the beginning of the pandemic. From leading prevention efforts to conducting case investigations and contact tracing, Public Health has led the charge to protect Nevada County residents from the virus.
One year later, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel. With three highly effective vaccines now available, the department’s current challenge is ensuring that all Nevada County residents have access to a vaccine. One of the key challenges is reaching older adults.
Enter the REACH (Resources for Equity & Access in Community Health) Team, the Public Health Department’s crew of nurses dedicated to vaccinating those with the most risk and the least access to COVID-19 vaccinations.
The goal of the REACH Team is to vaccinate Nevada County residents who are less likely to have access through more traditional means. This includes older adults who don’t use the internet, people who are unable to leave their home due to lack of mobility or transportation, or those who haven’t received vaccine information due to language or communication barriers. “We are tasked with finding and immunizing those groups that may not otherwise have the information, time, or transportation to get a shot. This has always been Public Health’s mission. We are the safety net” said Cindy Wilson, Nevada County’s Director of Public Health Nursing.
The REACH Team began doing pop-up clinics in January, with a focus on older adults who live in congregate settings. In coordination with local independent living facilities, the team meets people where they are, providing onsite vaccinations. So far, the REACH Team has vaccinated residents of Hilltop Commons, the Bret Harte Retirement Inn, and some smaller care homes. They have recently started focusing on senior mobile home parks, including Sierra Pines, Ponderosa Pines, and Forest Springs. The REACH Team has vaccinated over 150 seniors so far, with more visits planned for the coming weeks.
Like all of the Public Health department’s initiatives, collaboration has been key to the success of the program. “It takes not only a team of skilled nurses, but the willingness of facility staff to make this work. There is a real community spirit behind this effort, and our partners at independent living facilities have made this possible for their residents,” Wilson said.
While the REACH Team provides the nurses, equipment, and vaccine, the facility staff is responsible for logistics—setting up the space to maintain social distancing and assisting residents in completing paperwork before the REACH Team arrives to administer shots. “They know their residents and are able to support them when we’re there. They can tell us who needs a little more care or assistance and they can provide support if someone is not feeling well after their shot,” said Wilson.
“It was a great experience having the team here,” said Hilltop Commons Marketing Director Sue Hudson. “Very few of our residents drive and most are unable to walk to the closest bus stop. Many do not have family nearby who can help them get to a clinic. By coming to us, the REACH Team made getting the vaccine easy.”
Morale has improved at Hilltop Commons since the vaccine clinic, Hudson said. “Everyone’s spirits are lifted. The residents are happier. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and they feel like they’re leading the way.”
Public Health Director Jill Blake says she plans to expand the REACH Team’s efforts to other hard-to-reach populations, including residents of geographically isolated areas like North San Juan and the Little Town of Washington, and to residents who speak limited or no English.
For Blake, the REACH Team is critical to fulfilling the Public Health department’s core mission. “It’s our responsibility to ensure that anyone who wants to be vaccinated has access to the vaccine, no matter their age, race, ability, primary language, or socioeconomic status,” Blake said. “This is our mandate and it is critical we fulfill it if we want to return to normalcy.”
To learn more about vaccinations in Nevada County, visit MyNevadaCounty.com/Coronavirus/Vaccine. If you have questions about signing up for vaccines for yourself or a loved one, please call 211 or 1-833-DIAL211.