KRQE News 13 Albuquerque – Santa Fe

New Mexico village works to get at-home COVID vaccines

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Last month, the state said they were starting to roll out in-home vaccinations for those unable to leave, but the mayor of Columbus, New Mexico village, said that is easier said than done. He is afraid some of the most vulnerable people could get left behind.

Jorge Cruz Bautista, 81, is homebound and paralyzed from the waist down. Mayor Esequiel Salas is his close family friend who fought to get him both doses of the Pfizer vaccine at home. “He does feel more comfortable,” Salas said. “He enjoys his little house here.”

Cruz Bautista is now fully vaccinated after the Columbus Volunteer Fire Department administered the doses, but Salas said getting that done was not easy. “It was a long battle,” Salas said.

Salas said he was led to believe for more than a month that Cruz Bautista could receive the vaccine at home, but at the last minute, the New Mexico Department of Health told him they could not do it. Then, the local fire department came through after talking with NMDOH staff. “We need more leadership from the state and more stepping up to the line to make sure these people get vaccinated,” Salas said.

The state said that it is up to local communities to administer homebound vaccines and use their own resources to get it done. “DOH can’t wash their hands and say this is a local thing,” Salas said. “We have to work together.”

Salas said in a place like Columbus with many elderly, homebound citizens, and few resources like transportation, it is a difficult task. “It just takes quite a bit of extra work,” Salas said.

Salas said he has been taking it upon himself to find homebound residents in his village to work to get them the vaccine at home. He knows of at least a dozen people who need it. “I don’t think it should just be up to one individual or just the mayor,” Salas said.

Salas believes it would be more efficient if the state played a larger role. “It would be good to have someone designated at the DOH that we could go to give them the information of these homebound people,” Salas said. “Like I said earlier, it was a battle just to get them to talk to me.”

There is an option on the state’s vaccine registration website where people can say they are homebound and need accommodations. KRQE News 13 asked the state how many people have checked those boxes online but they did not provide any numbers.

On Thursday, a spokesperson for the Department of Health released the following statement:

“There are no battles, only challenges, and our state agencies are working every day in every area to address the challenges of vaccinating everyone wanting to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Among those New Mexicans with the greatest challenge are homebound and not easily able to go to a vaccination site. We are collaborating with medical partners and communities to create opportunities for homebound residents.

 For example, in Las Cruces, the local public health office is working with the city’s fire department to provide at-home vaccinations. The DOH provides the vaccine and supplies; the Fire Department provides the personnel.

Every community has its unique challenges, and we offer support where we can. For communities that find more is needed, they can help by working with their local emergency managers to identify resources to include their local EMS, healthcare providers, home health agencies, or other volunteers who can assist as well as reaching out to the Department of Health.  Some communities may have the resources to also transport people with mobility issues to vaccine sites as well as the option of providing vaccine in the home.

They can also encourage those who are homebound, or their caregivers, to register in the online application and indicate mobility limitations.  The New Mexico Department of Health registration system can identify people with mobility issues and support efforts by community providers to vaccinate them through vaccine allocations.  In some cases, the state may even be able to provide staff through NMDOH, Medical Reserve Corps, or the National Guard who can assist in this effort.”

Jim Walton, DOH