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Elder care agencies help shepherd seniors to their coronavirus vaccinations

Some are seeking to help manage the huge demand expected when people aged 70+ become eligible on Monday.

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — With overwhelming demand predicted among people age 70 and up to get coronavirus vaccines beginning Monday, local senior care agencies are trying to streamline the process as best they can.

"What we're trying to do is be that point where people can put their names on a waiting list," said Kathy Packard, the executive director of the Oaklawn Center on Aging in Hot Springs, as she collected necessary medical forms from a steady stream of people filling them out ahead of the entry into Phase 1B.

RELATED: People over 70, school staff next in Arkansas to get COVID-19 vaccine

"We're down here to drop off our application to get our COVID shots," said John Powell, who drove from Roark to pick up his sister, Mae, from Hot Springs. "We're pretty eager. We're tired of staying in. We're tired of being locked up like prisoners, you might say."

Packard and others form the non-profit routinely emptied a plastic bin outside their office where people could place their completed forms. She said they collected more than 3,000 pieces in the two-plus days since putting the word out. They will then work with the area pharmacy to get all those people in line for appointments. The huge demand could also serve as a sign to state health officials of a need for a large vaccination event.

"That will depend on how many doses we get," said Packard. "For now, we're going to be that spot that calls these people back and gives them appointments and tells them where to be when."

In Pulaski County, the larger state-funded agency for senior services, CareLink, is working to keep up with the calls for information to their North Little Rock offices.

"Right now, we're just getting so much more call volume," said Randi Metcalf, the chief operating officer. "We really are expecting to see a high number of folks who are kind of looking for some direction."

The information staff is directing more people who didn't think they needed to use the organization's services. They are pointing callers to their favorite local pharmacies to get on those waiting lists. From there, they will be ready to provide a lift to the appointment.

"You can call our Carelink office and ask for a trip to and from the pharmacy that you choose in Pulaski County," Metcalf said. Similar services may be available in the other six central Arkansas counties the agency covers. 

Pharmacy officials predict 30,000 doses will be added to the supply already in the state when Phase 1B begins Monday. Those limited quantities are why CareLink and other organizations are not planning any large vaccination events for now. 

Based on demand, anyone who hasn't put themselves on a list by now probably can't expect to get a shot next week, but the local agencies plan to keep people updated and guide clients through the process.

"We understand," said Powell, the man dropping off a form. "We're hurrying up to wait."

RELATED: Doctor pleased with COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Arkansas

The Oaklawn Center on Aging said they would only take completed forms through Thursday. They may resume the process once they work through that batch.

The number for a ride to a pharmacy or other CareLink services is 501.372.5300 or toll-free at 800.482.6359 (TYY 711).