Holly Clark of Latrobe is paying it forward by logging onto her computer and making phone calls to set up appointments for people to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
They’re mostly older adults who aren’t computer savvy, or for one reason or another have difficulty navigating the links, applications and often the repeated efforts to keep trying again.
She’s helping friends, neighbors and strangers because the community responded years ago when her beloved Pomeranian, Teddy, who was trained to alert her to the symptoms of a medical condition, needed expensive specialty surgery.
“So many people donated towards the surgery to save Teddy, and their compassion and kindness gave me four more years with him,” she said.
Then a year or so ago when she was on a special diet before and after abdominal surgery, neighbors brought her the food and supplements that she needed. “So the journey of helping to get vaccines for those in the area who need help has given me a way to give back to the community,” she said.
That’s not the only reason. Clark, a retired registered nurse, has a background in teaching skills for disaster response for the American Red Cross, and has experience in coordinating deployment and response. She worked for the Red Cross in Cleveland, Mississippi, and other locations, and was involved in response in the disasters of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and in a bridge collapse in Minneapolis.
When the vaccines became available, her health made her eligible in the first wave, but she hit a brick wall in finding an appointment. So she called her friend, Dr. Steven Rosenblatt, staff general surgeon at Cleveland Clinic, to vent her frustration and ask if he had any suggestions.
He did. He told her to find a way to get vaccinated because “your background would really be helpful now.”
Those words were encouraging. Clark had already sewn hundreds of masks that she gave away to anyone who needed them, but she wanted to do more. She was able to get the vaccine at one of the clinics through Hayden’s Pharmacy in Youngwood, and while she was waiting, she put out the word that she could assist others to schedule theirs.
So far, she has helped more than 200 people to connect with clinics through Excela Health, local pharmacies and other programs. Her husband Bill sometimes hand delivers the printed confirmations and instructions to local people.
“So many people who have come to me for help have been frantic,” Clark said. “I can sit there at my computer and work with my contacts to get this done. Bill and I always felt strongly that no matter what’s going on in the world that we should do random acts of kindness as much as we can. This is one thing that we can do to give back.”
To contact Clark for help with vaccine registry, call her cell at 878-295-0213.
Several local organizations have also been helping people — mostly older adults — to get scheduled for the vaccine.
Westmoreland County Area Agency on Aging in Greensburg (724-830-4444) partners with Excela Health and other suppliers in the county, and with United Way that’s also helping people to register.
“We have been assisting any older adults who might have a lack of technology and don’t have anyone to assist them” agency administrator Carrie Nelson said. “A lot of older adults don’t have email addresses, and early on, a lot of suppliers required an email address to register. Now we are moving into using phone numbers.”
The Agency on Aging has directly registered more than 200 people. The Community Health clinic in Greensburg, she noted, is also holding clinics there and in their office in New Kensington.
Staff and volunteers at the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania (724-834-7170) have helped more than 500 older adults without technology. And like other agencies and volunteers, they continue to assist individuals in other categories who for whatever reason also need help.
“I’m so happy that we were able to meet this need,” said Alyssa Cholodofsky, United Way’s Westmoreland region director.
The agency reaches out to the elderly through their Open Your Heart to a Senior Program. Faith In Action serves Latrobe and Ligonier with a similar program, as does Wesley Family Services that has locations throughout the county. All of them have been assisting with scheduling vaccines.
“So many people have had to rely on someone helping them,” she said. “But now Excela has a registry and you can put in all your info when you are eligible and they will send an email or call you. That’s a little easier, but you still have to have the technology.”
For information about volunteer opportunities related to the COVID-19 vaccine, visit serv.pa.gov.