Home healthcare providers are joining forces with hospitals and public health agencies in some states to provide in-home COVID-19 vaccinations to seniors. But obstacles to vaccinating seniors in rural areas remain. 

Maine initiative

In late March, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services partnered with Androscoggin Home Healthcare and Hospice and St. Mary’s Medical Center in Lewiston, ME, to get shots into the arms of seniors 70 and older. That pilot wrapped in early April, with 14 nurses administering the two-dose Moderna vaccine to 50 seniors.

Last week the alliance began a second phase, vaccinating 85 homebound people. Leeann Sebrey, chief Medical officer for Androscoggin Home Care and Hospice, said her team is hoping to vaccinate up to 100 homebound people this week with the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Leann Sebrey, Chief Clinical Officer, Androscoggin Home Healthcare & Hospice

“That is really the great benefit of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Some of the homebound might end up going back to the hospital or get released from home care and miss getting the second dose of the Moderna vaccine,” Sebrey told McKnight’s Home Care Daily.

South Portland, ME-based Northern Lights Home Care and Hospice told McKnight’s Home Care Daily it has vaccinated about 21,000 people in Southern Maine over the past month through pop-up clinics and in-home visits.

The Maine CDC has also established a policy enabling providers to include caregivers and household members when providing vaccines to homebound individuals.

woman at Aroostook Agency on Aging works at her desk
Aroostook Agency on Aging volunteer Lori Ann Cyr works at her desk assisting with vaccine coordination.

Since early January, Maine agencies on aging have been reaching out to rural seniors in an effort to get COVID-19 vaccines into the arms of the elderly. Joy Baressi Saucier, director of Aroostook County’s Agency of Aging told McKnight’s Home Care Daily last month that many seniors found online vaccine registration “overwhelming.”

Plans in Virginia

There are moves in other states to vaccinate seniors at home, as well. In Virginia, Sentara Healthcare told McKnight’s Home Care Daily it is drawing up plans to vaccinate patients in its home healthcare program. The effort will begin once Sentra can obtain the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Vaccinating the homebound is especially difficult in rural areas where about 1 in 5 older Americans live.  National Association of Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) President William Dombi told McKnight’s Home Care Daily Tennessee and New England are leading the regional efforts to vaccinate seniors in their homes, but the methods being used to reach them are varied.

Call for national plan 

“That all translates to homebound seniors not being ignored and that there are solid signs of progress. Still, we believe that a national plan that supplements, but not supplants these local efforts is very much needed,” Dombi said.

Dombi said NAHC is continuing talks with the Biden administration about developing a national vaccination plan that would consider the needs of homebound seniors.