St. Clair Hospital brings covid-19 vaccine to ‘thrilled’ seniors at low-income apartments

Most of the nearly 100 residents at St. Thomas More Manor, an eight-story apartment tower for low-income seniors in Bethel Park, have been eager to get vaccinated for covid-19.

But like many people across Western Pennsylvania — and particularly, elderly people without access to cars and computers — they weren’t sure how or when they’d get their turn amid the state’s scattered rollout.

They rejoiced Friday when St. Clair Hospital officials brought the vaccine directly to them. A total of 80 seniors received their first vaccine dose in a room set up in their apartment building next to St. Thomas More Church.

“They were extremely grateful. They were thrilled,” said Dr. G. Alan Yeasted, chief medical officer emeritus at St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon, who was among those giving the shots as part of a six-person mobile team.

St. Clair Hospital’s move to take vaccines on the road to those who need it most marks among a handful of such outreach efforts happening in the region, which still is struggling to vaccinate all health care workers, long-term care facilities and other priority groups.

Allegheny County recently opened up its Monroeville clinic to anyone over 65 — but supplies remain “extremely limited” and appointments can only be made online via a system that’s frustrating not only less tech savvy seniors but also their children and friends trying to help.

St. Clair Hospital, which employs more than 2,200 people and has about 550 physicians, already finished vaccinating its health care workers at the hospital and outpatient centers. They then opened up vaccine distribution to local dentists and first responders such as medics, according to Yeasted.

Officials also recently began reaching out and offering vaccine appointments to any patient 80 or older who’s used their services in the past five years.

The next logical extension seemed to be bringing the vaccines to others who qualify to receive them but lack the means — hence the first mobile visit to a senior housing complex with Friday’s trip to St. Thomas More Manor.

“Our feeling was that they have limited transportation ability, they may not have as much access to a computer or to be able to sign up, and obviously from an age standpoint, they certainly meet the criteria,” Yeasted said. “We wanted to look at the most vulnerable populations out there, and certainly if covid would enter into a place like this it could spread very quickly.”

Next up: Goodwill Manor in Bridgeville, a 50-unit affordable housing complex for seniors subsidized by the Allegheny County Housing Authority. Early this week, he and his team be doing a pre-visit to set up a room for the vaccine distribution and check on factors such as internet access and refrigeration options.

They’ll return to St. Thomas More Manor to give residents there the second doses on Feb. 19.

“We’re trying to do them in the South Hills, where our hospital is located, and if we can get more vaccine — which is the problem everyone’s having — we’ll be able to get it to more senior residents in other parts of the (Pittsburgh) area,” Yeasted said. “The more people we can get vaccinated, the better off everyone is.”

St. Clair Hospital’s supply of vaccine doses hasn’t completely run out yet, but what’s left is “all spoken for” via scheduled recipients as they await their next shipment, Yeasted said.

“Getting the vaccine is the problem,” he said. “The state informs us that we will be getting a shipment — but they don’t tell you how much it is. You wait and see what you get.”

By:  Natasha Lindstrom – Reporter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review