Unable to get vaccinated or go to the doctor, some children in Danbury can’t go to school

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DANBURY – Some local families are struggling to enroll their children in school because they cannot find or pay for appointments for required medicals and vaccinations.

Suppliers say they can’t keep up with the high demand for appointments, which in some cases fell behind during the coronavirus crisis. Clinics cannot add appointments due to understaffing or COVID-19 issues.

One clinic, the Samaritan Health Center in Danbury, has seen a 200% increase in calls and appointments.

“It’s just really, really crazy that we have a waiting list until about January now,” said Donna Shaw, the executive director who runs the health center.

Samaritan is part of the Jericho nonprofit partnership and serves uninsured patients. Many patients are undocumented. The clinic has referred patients to other local health centers that serve uninsured patients, but those clinics are also booked, Shaw said.

There are around 200 students waiting in the Danbury Schools’ enrollment queue, although it is not known how many are stuck with the need for vaccines and physical exams.

“We have a lot of families trying to get vaccinated,” Superintendent Kevin Walston told school board members last week. “They cannot afford to buy vaccines to access our schools. We are learning that the vaccinations themselves are very expensive in emergency care.

The problem does not appear to be widespread.

“We haven’t heard from any area of ​​the state that parents are having trouble getting an appointment to receive the required vaccines,” Department of Health spokesman Christopher Boyle said in a statement. E-mail.

The state requires students to undergo physical exams and various vaccines, excluding COVID-19 vaccines, which are optional for eligible students.

“Children should have the required vaccines for school entry when they start school,” Boyle said. “If a child is late for requirements, he or she should receive all possible vaccines or have an appointment to receive them and adhere to a catch-up schedule for subsequent doses needed. “

Officials from schools, the city health department and school health centers are meeting on Wednesday to discuss how to fix the problem, said Melanie Bonjour, school health services program manager for the Connecticut Institute for Communities. .

Some families fell behind on doctor‘s office visits or their immunization schedules at the onset of COVID, she said. Providers have been unable to handle the demand, in addition to telehealth, well visits and other appointments.

“A lot of clinics that serve underserved people struggle to get children in,” Bonjour said. “But we want to make sure they enroll in school and in-person learning as soon as possible.”

One option could be to offer drive-thru vaccination clinics, she said. These clinics took place in the summer of 2019 and spring 2020, when authorities feared children would receive their vaccines during the lockdown.

It’s more difficult to offer physical exams this way because they take longer, Bonjour said.

The Danbury Health Service has provided vaccines to “many” families in need and is in regular contact with Danbury Public Schools to refer students to the Health Service for their injections, said Kara Prunty, headmistress of Danbury. health.

“My team has been in contact with community partners to discuss a solution that would allow more children to access physical exams,” she said in an email.

The challenges faced by suppliers

Demand is increasing every year for children’s physicals and vaccinations, said Leslie Gianelli, spokesperson for the Community Health Center, which has clinics in Danbury and across the state.

“Some people tend to make an appointment at the last minute, which makes it difficult to get an appointment right away,” she said in an email. “Currently, across our system, we allow about two weeks for visits from healthy children. “

The Center for Pediatric Medicine is “slammed” in its Danbury and New Fairfield offices, said Matt Carreira, chief operating officer. The three offices see more than 200 patients per day, he estimated.

Same-day appointments are available, but major slots – like Saturday afternoon – can be busy for a month, he said.

In 2020, fewer people came to the doctor’s office because they stayed home due to COVID, but now patients are rushing back, Carreira said. The number of sick visits has also increased as more patients fear they have COVID, he said.

Samaritan saw the number of patients drop in 2020 because families stayed at home and fewer people immigrated due to COVID, Shaw said. It’s changed.

“We just can’t serve everyone as quickly as they would like,” Shaw said. “I know they want to send their children to school and make sure they are healthy and [have] vaccines needed, but we certainly don’t have enough hands in the mix here. “

The health center charges patients a nominal one-time fee, but Shaw said some families have gone elsewhere and are “willing to pay anything” so their children can go to school.

The clinic has a part-time medical director, a part-time nurse manager and a “very part-time” staff nurse, Shaw said. Its volunteer base consists of six physicians, physician assistants or advanced practice registered nurses, along with a volunteer nurse.

Samaritan is privately funded and does not have the budget for full-time staff, she said.

She urged people in the medical field to volunteer, so the health center can potentially extend its opening hours.

“If we just had more bodies in the mix it would definitely help reduce some of our backlog,” Shaw said.

The Pediatric Medicine Center is downsized, so the employees “got burned out and worked more,” Carreira said. The center is hiring three more providers, but their training takes time, he said.

Even with more staff, space is a challenge, he said. Three examination rooms are out of service because they are needed for COVID protocols, including testing and space for staff to change and remove gowns.

Danbury School Health Centers work with schools on a daily basis to identify non-compliant students and vaccinate them, Bonjour said. This is the main reason why students went to school health centers this school year.

“The issue of vaccines is a priority because it could lead to a different public health crisis and we want to make sure the students are all protected,” Bonjour said.


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