As Windsor-Essex is set to vaccinate seniors 80+ in community, accessibility becomes an issue

Windsor resident Nancy McDonald says accessing the COVID-19 vaccine has already come with a few barriers, including figuring out the online registration and planning transportation to the site.

The health unit says it has received mobility concerns from seniors

Some seniors are concerned about how they'll get to the vaccine clinic sites, both in regards to mobility but also transportation. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Windsor resident Nancy McDonald says accessing the COVID-19 vaccine has already come with a few barriers, including figuring out the online registration and planning transportation to the site.

Starting Monday, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) said the WFCU Centre, located at 8787 McHugh St. in east Windsor, will be the first vaccine clinic to offer shots to seniors 80 and older. The other clinic will open March 8 at Nature Fresh Farms Recreation Centre in Leamington.

Registration has already begun, with some 7,000 people signing up within the past day, according to WECHU. 

Eighty-four-year-old McDonald was one of those who signed up — but she had to get someone to help register her online.

Yet, now she worries how she'll get to the site when it's her time. 

As the region moves to vaccinate the next priority group, questions are arising about accessibility. Concerns being raised show that it needs to be thought of broadly not just in terms of physical access to a building. When dealing with a vulnerable population who likely have mobility and financial issues, details like clinic hours, online access and fluency, location and transportation need to be addressed amid the rush to get vaccines in arms. 

"I was very concerned because I'm basically in the downtown area ... I'm a non-driver so to get to either place I would have to have a ride or some type of transportation," says McDonald, who lives across from Windsor's Jackson Park. 

She usually takes public transit to get around, but hasn't done so due to the pandemic, so her only other option is to rely on someone to bring her. 

For people like herself, she says the centre's hours of operation, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., aren't the best. 

The WFCU Centre opens March 1 for vaccinations for those 80 and older and Leamington's Nature Fresh Farms Recreation Centre will open March 8. (CBC News & Google Maps)

"If it's someone that needed a ride and their family were working people couldn't they have evening [hours], say 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. for a couple hours to get people there that didn't have a ride?" she said. 

She says she wishes there was a clinic in walking distance of where she lives. 

But she's not the only one concerned about getting to the site. 

On Friday, the health unit said it has already received some concerns from community members who have mobility issues. 

"This isn't going to be for everyone at this point that is over 80," WECHU CEO Theresa Marentette said.

"It is a limited supply of vaccine and it may not be the best option for everyone ... We continue to try to work internally to see what other options are available to our seniors over 80."

More sites, transportation options could help

Windsor-Essex Council on Aging director Deana Johnson said mobility is always a challenge for older adults. 

But, "what's the alternative?" she said. 

"It would be nice if we were able to have several sites east, west, central, where people could indeed get vaccinated," she said.

"If I'm a senior and I live downtown, I got to go all the way to the east end [and] that becomes very difficult."

At the same time she says she can only imagine that planning the vaccine rollout is a "logistical nightmare."

Here's a snapshot from Workforce Windsor-Essex's demographic map that shows regions with high number of seniors between the ages of 80 and 84. This data is from Statistic Canada's 2016 census. (Workforce Windsor-Essex)

The WFCU centre, though far from the city's west-end senior population, is a "fairly reasonable" site for people to access. She said the space has a senior centre in it and is known to the community. 

Multiple sites, she said, might not be possible given the limited number of large spaces with parking in the city and the ability to properly store the vaccines in different locations.

But at the least, more transportation options could be made available to the community, she said, adding that maybe that includes volunteer drivers or a bus to pick up groups of people. 

Accessibility of the sites

Physician at the University of Windsor's Student Health Services Matt Scholl says the sites are accessible and geographically make sense. 

"Logistically speaking both sites are great as far as accessibility for that population, wheelchair accessible main floor, plenty of area for social distancing, following all public health protocols that are in place and there's also an area basically for these individuals to remain for 15 to 30 minutes to make sure that there's no vaccine reactions," he said. 

Workforce Windsor-Essex has a demographic map showing where seniors in the region live, based on 2016 census data from Statistics Canada. 

According to the map, the clinics seem to be located in areas where the majority of those who are 80 and older are living. 

Theresa Marentette, CEO Windsor Essex County Health Unit, says the health unit is working on other options for seniors to get the vaccine for those who are not able to access a clinic. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

Some more appointment details, according to information on the health unit's website, note that people are allowed to bring assistive devices as needed, including a scooter or wheelchair. As well, the health unit says there will be wheelchairs on site for people to use. 

A support person is also allowed if required, though the only example listed on the website is an interpreter.

In an email to CBC News, the health unit said this also includes other support personnel and formal documentation is not required. It added that translation services will also be available at the clinic. 

Beyond the physical space and appointment itself, the health unit has also set up phone lines for people to register as not everyone has access to technology. 

Are mobile clinics a possibility?

The health unit said Thursday that it still is working out the details on accessing people in the community who are 80 and older and have difficulties leaving their home.  

"We will continue to work on other strategies for access that will likely involve our teams and others that we're partnering with moving into areas where there are populations of seniors living so we'll work on that as well," said Marentette.

"There will be other strategies that we'll have to keep considering as we get more vaccines and be able to transport the vaccine safely." 

Mobile clinics have been suggested in other regions of the province, with cities like Hamilton looking at pop-up clinics, mobile bus clinics, rolling or drive-thru clinics. 

Rolling clinics would help people who cannot leave their homes, and are living in small numbers. A bus would drop off vaccinators at a site, and circle back to pick them up. 

The third option is a mobile bus, which would drive to various areas and operate as a clinic. 

With files from Christine Rankin


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