MILFORD, PA — The Pike County Commissioners have announced that the PA Department of Health will be increasing its allocation of the COVID-19 vaccine to the rural county. Last Monday, Wayne …
MILFORD, PA — The Pike County Commissioners have announced that the PA Department of Health will be increasing its allocation of the COVID-19 vaccine to the rural county. Last Monday, Wayne Memorial Health Centers received it’s highest allocation of 2,000 doses and the hospital received 500.
Without a local health department or hospital, Pike residents have no centralized location in their county to get information about, or book appointments for, the highly sought-after COVID-19 vaccine. A smattering of local practitioners and pharmacies have received dosages, community clinics through the state and Wayne Memorial Hospital (located in neighboring Wayne County) have taken place, but the commissioners say that, overall, the system is hardly sufficient to immunize the population efficiently. At press time, roughly 3,700 Pike County residents have been fully vaccinated.
Earlier this month, the local leaders held a meeting with PA Sen. Lisa Baker (PA-20) and PA Department of Health Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Meaghan Abbot to advocate for more vaccine and different distribution strategies. Commissioner Matt Osterberg advocated for a regularly scheduled vaccine clinic for the county, and commissioner Ron Schmalzle asked for a central place where residents could go for information and scheduling.
“We’ve had some mass vaccination clinics directly through the Department of Health... we’ve had some vaccine clinics that are done by Wayne Memorial Health Care Systems, and then we have a lot of private providers providing either clinics or just the availability of vaccines and then there are the pharmacies,” Schmalzle said. “So, I think that the confusing part for the constituents is, who do they call and where do they get the information?” He noted that they often don’t know about when a clinic will pop up until just days in advance.
The meeting was hardly the first time the health department has been asked about why things aren’t more centralized. It’s a conversation that’s been happening statewide since Pfizer and Moderna were first available in the commonwealth. And as surrounding states have outperformed Pennsylvania with immunizations, residents have been feeling the need for a new system is more and more dire.
However, the state typically defends its current approach, which involves allowing individual hospitals, pharmacies and others to do their own scheduling. Abbot told the commissioners that a central registry would actually slow things down.
“The door is open, we’re interested to take all of these ideas under consideration, but also being respectful of our provider network and how they operate and how they need to operationalize things is really important,” she said. “We don’t want to add another barrier for folks, so we don’t want to send someone to a central registry that would then take longer to get through the administrative steps to get someone scheduled.”
The commissioners maintained, however, that in a place like Pike County, residents would rather rely on one fixed distributor rather than playing “whack-a-mole” with providers, as Osterberg described to River Reporter. Namely, the commissioners want the Wayne Memorial Health System to be that main provider.
“We believe that Wayne Memorial Health System has the ability, the staff and the wherewithal to distribute [the] vaccine. However, if you look at this week alone, what [the hospital] is receiving is far less than single practitioners that don’t have the ability to do it,” Schmazle—a Wayne Memorial trustee—said, also describing reports the commissioners have received that local pharmacies and other smaller practitioners are receiving vaccine doses, but lack the staff to distribute them. “We have a really good way of getting the vaccine out, however, [the hospital] is not getting the vaccine.”
Baker, representing both Wayne and Pike counties, said that Pike County residents feel like they’re being penalized for not living in a place with its own hospital, and she said Wayne Memorial isn’t being recognized as the county’s approximately 55,000 residents’ primary health care facility.
“People are frustrated; they’re signing up in multiple locations, they’re willing to travel two and three hours if they read somewhere that there are extra doses. That’s not what we need to have,” Baker said. “We want to have a systemic approach and the way we believe this can be accomplished is utilizing a health care delivery network that’s highly respected, that has the capacity and the capability of doing it.”
Not only do they want more vaccines but they also want to make sure it’s accessible to the residents.
“When you say to people in Matamoras that the vaccine is going to be at Wayne hospital up in Honesdale, they’re like, ‘Where?’” Osterberg said. “We need to work better at getting more [clinics] located in different locations. Maybe it is in the Delaware Valley School down toward Matamoras, maybe it is in the middle school, maybe it’s in Delaware Township, closer to Lehman Township.”
As Baker noted, many people are willing to make long trips to wherever the vaccine is available. But with nearly a quarter of the population 65 years old or older, lack of transportation makes distance another major barrier for residents.
After a follow-up meeting between local leaders, hospital officials and PA Department of Health Deputy Secretary Keara Klinepeter, Pike County announced that “an increased allocation of the vaccine” and “a specific distribution plan is expected from Wayne Memorial Hospital [this] week.”
“We are grateful that the state has heard and responded to our requests, and we thank Sen. Baker and Wayne Memorial Health System for their partnership, which is helping to create a more equitable distribution of the vaccine in our area,” the commissioners said in a joint statement. “We look forward to continued efforts in this direction”