Hopkins County Emergency Management officials report they have been working with state officials almost daily but have had no success finding out why Hopkins County providers have not received more first-doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, but report a hotline has been designated to help 1B residents who don’t have computers and internet access get on a COVID-19 vaccine waiting list or help schedule appointments when vaccines are available.
Hopkins County Emergency Management Coordinator Andy Endsley noted that while the local emergency management officials have nothing to do with COVID-19 vaccinations, including how much is allocated to which providers or how it is distributed, they have been in contact with both Senator Bob Hall’s Office and Rep. Bryan Slaton’s office, as well as other state contacts, trying to find out why more first-doses of the vaccine haven’t come to Hopkins County and asking for help to make that happen. Distribution of the vaccine is handled through the joint efforts of Texas Department of Emergency Management and Texas Department of State Health Services.
Hopkins County Judge Robert Newsom said local emergency officials were promised from the start that the COVID-19 vaccine would be allocated across the state per capita, and has not heard anything different than that. He finds it concerning that Brookshire’s and Walgreens Pharmacies were each allocated 100 doses of the vaccine this week, but the hospital has not been allocated any additional first-doses of the vaccine in three weeks.
“I’m very concerned they are not living up to what they told us,” Newsom said, and pondered whether the increase of large hubs and doses to those hubs has reduced the number of vaccines coming to Hopkins County. “There is not a hub close to our area where elderly can drive to easily.”
CHRISTUS Mother Frances Hospital CEO Paul Harvey said the hospital and clinic weren’t allocated any first-doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to reach the many 1B residents who have indicated they still haven’t been able to get the shot last week or this week, and isn’t expected to receive any next week either.
“We put in for at least 1,000 doses a week. We haven’t seen anything come back. It’s very frustrating,” Harvey said.
CMFH-SS has been able, through the CHRISTUS Health System, to obtain a few additional vaccines to help vaccinate more people here, but not huge numbers. He said every dose that comes into Hopkins County is used. For instance, if they were to receive a few additional doses of the vaccine designated to first responders in 1A in the four-county service area the hospital serves, but not all were able to make the trip into Sulphur Springs to get the shot within the time frame they must be distributed. Those doses would be given to someone else. The same would apply if someone was not able to make their scheduled appointment to receive the second-dose of the COVID1-9 vaccine or opted not to have the second dose. That dose could go to someone who has yet to receive a first dose of the vaccine. No doses are kept in storage or held back. All doses are distributed to make sure none go to waste, Harvey noted.
The hospital put in to be a rural hub provider but so far, has not been given the designation, Harvey and Newsom noted.
Newsom said he’s talked to Bryan Slaton’s office and has been assured the first-year representative’s office is doing everything they can possibly do to ensure Hopkins County receives a fair share of the COVID-19 vaccine to better protect individuals at high risk from the virus.
Harvey and Endsley have been in contact with various state representatives as well to try to speed up the process of vaccines being allocated to Hopkins County. Senator Bob Hall’s office was instrumental in the hospital getting its first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. CMFH-SS has been allocated 400 doses of the vaccine initially, but were bumped from the list without any explanation within 48-hours. Endsley noted John Vick, district director for Hall, worked on his day off, reaching out to his contacts to help the hospital attain the 400 doses originally allocated to the facility.
The hospital executive reported CHRISTUS had worked with Carriage House Manor to see that all residents and associates had been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 as of last Thursday. Harvey said while local officials reached out to the other facilities, they opted not to work through CHRISTUS to obtain vaccinations, so he can’t attest for the vaccine status for those nursing facilities.
Harvey said while CMFH-SS has not seen a decline in overall patient counts, there has been a decline in COVID-19 patients over the last 2 weeks.
Sulphur Springs Emergency Management Coordinator Jason Ricketson said Hopkins County isn’t the only area that is having trouble getting doses of the vaccine and hitting a brick wall as to why. He said from listening in on the regular Zoom meetings for local city and county officials, it’s clear “we are not the only place.” The frustration is experienced at locations state-wide especially in more rural areas.
Some other areas, Lamar County and Texarkana, have been designated as hubs, but those areas, officials noted have a state health department and higher populations. Hopkins County does not have a local health department, but a doctor and nurse designates as a Local Health Authority to serve in lieu of the state department for officials reporting purposes.
Officials have also expressed concern for those older residents who do not have access to a computer or internet to register online for appointments when vaccines become available or to get on pharmacies’ waiting lists.
After hearing this from multiple sources across the region, a toll free phone number has been established through Ark-Tex Council of Governments. The residents in the ATCOG area who meet 1B criteria who don’t have a computer or internet access, or who aren’t skilled with them, will be able to call 1-800-372-4464 to have someone in the ATCOG office help them set up an appointment if one is available in their area or to get on a waiting list for COVID-19 vaccines in their area. That number and call is toll free, and residents will need to provide some information so the ATCOG help can complete the process for them.