JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville Housing Authority officials said Monday that state contractor Agape Family Health will hold vaccination clinics this month at two of its senior high-rises.
The announcement came after JHA revealed last week that the state did not schedule any vaccination clinics at the authority’s four senior apartment complexes during a two-week effort to vaccinate the most vulnerable in low-income government housing.
JHA rents to more than 700 seniors, many of whom lack transportation and are too ill to travel.
Officials plan to vaccinate 500 people at senior high-rise Centennial Towers from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 19, and the next clinic will be at Hogan Creek Towers on March 25. Hogan Creek Towers houses both seniors and people with disabilities.
“Agape Family Health has been providing COVID testing at our facilities since last year,” said JHA interim CEO and President Dwayne Alexander. “They have been a great partner and this vaccination program is the next step in providing care (to) our residents as we fight this pandemic.”
To register to receive the vaccine, eligible individuals should call JHA at 904-630-3843.
Agape Family Health CEO Mia Jones has, for weeks, assisted in running the state vaccination site at Edward Waters College. After seeing News4Jax’s stories on JHA’s senior housing properties, she offered to vaccinate 500 of the authority’s residents this week.
“I was surprised because I thought that all of the senior housing properties had been taken care of with the corporate pharmacies going out,” Jones said. “We’re just excited about being able to bring the vaccines to them, not have to give them directions to say, ‘Oh, go to Gateway or go to Edward Waters.’ We are going to bring it to them. The farthest they’ll have to go is downstairs.”
It’s a relief to Patricia Sheppard, who on Monday morning began slipping flyers underneath the doors of seniors at Hogan Creek Towers and signing residents up in the lobby on her clipboard.
Sheppard said some residents have had church members come to pick them up to take them to state and federal vaccination sites or have used public transportation to get to vaccination clinics. She herself is fully vaccinated. Sheppard said the March 25 clinic will be good for residents who are homebound or struggle to get across town for a vaccine.
“We have about three or four people that don’t come outside and they have their doctors and nurses come in and take care of their needs,” Sheppard said.
So far in Florida, more than 2.9 million people age 65 and older have gotten at least one COVID-19 shot. Lines outside vaccination clinics are poised to get longer, as state leaders mull lowering the age requirement to get a vaccine below 60.
Last week, the Florida Division of Emergency Management went into 145 Department of Housing and Urban Development Section 202 facilities and vaccinated people who qualify. Section 202 is the supportive housing for the elderly program. The state Division of Emergency Management said that within two weeks, it vaccinated more than 9,000 seniors and planned to finish March 12.
State vaccination clinics were held at 10 HUD apartment complexes in Duval County as a part of the effort, according to a spokesperson for FDEM. The effort did not include JHA, and the state has yet to answer whether it plans to execute a similar plan in housing authorities across the state.
Otis Bess Jr., 71, is a Vietnam veteran and a resident of JHA senior high-rise Centennial Towers. Bess said his doctor already planned for him to be vaccinated through the Department of Veterans Affairs because of his age and cancer diagnosis. But Bess said he worries for his wife and others who live at Centennial Towers.
“A lot of the clients here either don’t have a way to go, and then you got others, I think they are just a little leery of the vaccine,” said Bess. “I have had both shots of the Pfizer, and maybe during the process that they do, I can get my wife taken care of too because she is my health care provider.”
Marvin Levine is the service coordinator at low-income independent living apartments Towers of Jacksonville. Levine said he spent weeks calling the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Florida Department of Health, Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, trying to secure vaccination appointments for his most vulnerable tenants.
“Everyday residents are calling me, asking, ‘When are we getting the shot?’” said Levine. “I got about 200 people who live here, and half of them got their shots already, but the other half were unable to get out. They don’t have the money to get a cab, the support system, the family. Some people can’t leave their apartments -- some of them are too ill.”
After weeks of phone calls, Levine said, contractors for the state came to vaccinate residents of Towers of Jacksonville. One of his residents, Donna Taylor, got the Pfizer vaccine. For the first time in nearly a year, she left her room.
“I am grateful for them to come here and vaccinate our people because the atmosphere around here is so much nicer and so much calmer, and you can feel the relief in their voice,” Levine said. “You know, we are finally going to be OK.”