Gloria Brown was eager to get a COVID-19 vaccine, but the 88-year-old didn’t know how she would travel to a vaccination clinic.
No problem. On Wednesday, the clinic came to her.
Brown only had to walk down the hall and take an elevator to the first floor of her apartment building, the Omaha Housing Authority’s Crown Tower. There, Brown rolled up her sleeve and received her first vaccine shot.
“I feel just fine,” Brown said after the jab. “It didn’t even hurt.”
She was one of 43 people to receive COVID-19 vaccines Wednesday morning at Crown Tower in North Omaha. The on-site service came courtesy of Douglas County, OHA and the Mobile Diabetes Center, a partnership between Nebraska Methodist College (NMC) and the Cornbelt Diabetes Connection.
Nebraska Methodist-affiliated health care workers are going to all the OHA apartment towers that are restricted to people 55 and older. They’re offering vaccines to people 65 and older who live or work in the towers. Another 42 people received vaccines Wednesday at Evans Tower in North Omaha. A combined 85 got their first doses Tuesday in clinics at Underwood Tower in Dundee and Kay Jay Tower in South Omaha.
The vaccination clinics in the OHA towers are needed because many of the residents lack transportation and live in close proximity to one another in large buildings with small elevators, said Sal Issaka, OHA’s director of resident initiatives & public housing engagement.
“We want to remove as much of the barriers as we can,” Issaka said. “Transportation is a barrier for a lot of our residents. We want to make it easy. If you make it easy and convenient for people, some of those who are hesitant may want to do it.”
OHA staff and resident leaders have been working hard for more than a year on COVID prevention and testing.
“It’s amazing that we haven’t had an outbreak at any of our towers,” Issaka said. “We’re nearly at the finish line now, and the finish line is vaccination. We’re excited about the partnership with the county and Nebraska Methodist.”
Nebraska Methodist typically uses the Mobile Diabetes Center, housed in a specially equipped RV, to take diabetes screening and other services to people who face health care disparities. In the pandemic, they have put that to use for COVID vaccinations. Besides the towers, they’ve been scheduled to administer shots at Open Door Mission and Notre Dame Senior Housing so far.
“We focus on eliminating some of the barriers, such as access to transportation, availability of health care and cost,” said Kiley Petersmith, director of community engagement for Nebraska Methodist College. “We like partnering with community organizations. They have the trust and the rapport with the clients.”
OHA residents have a major role to play in fighting COVID-19. Issaka said people have stepped up to be community health ambassadors. They learned about prevention and then the vaccine, and share that information with their neighbors.
“We got the residents involved and empowered them to get the message out about wearing masks and testing,” Issaka said. “We continue to empower them to get information out about the vaccinations.”
That dynamic played out in plain sight Wednesday in the sunny activity room at Crown Tower, near 60th Street and Sorensen Parkway. Gloria Brown was guided into the room by Gomez Davis. She said she had forgotten today was the day. But Davis, the resident captain on her apartment floor, reminded her, and she went right along.
“Oh yes,” Brown said. “I don’t want to get that disease.”
Davis had similarly reminded three other people from his floor — even though at 64 he was too young to get a shot himself Wednesday, because Nebraska is currently limiting doses to people 65 and above and educators.
Meanwhile, Eric Burgin, an OHA board member who lives at Crown Tower and is a community health ambassador, kept lobbying reluctant neighbors to get the vaccine. He well knows how much of a barrier transportation can be. For many Crown Tower residents, Burgin is their ride to doctor’s appointments.
“A lot of people who said they weren’t going to get it, I saw them down here first thing this morning, when they thought nobody would be around,” Burgin, 65, said after receiving a shot.
Gregory Cooper, 65, phoned a friend while being observed after his own jab Wednesday.
“You got to come down here and get your shot; you don’t even feel the needle,” Cooper told his buddy. “You telling me you’d rather die than get a shot?”