In-home vaccine shots offer freedom, peace of mind to some Sandoval County residents

By Mathew Reisen with the Albuquerque Journal

Yolanda Trent has been afraid to leave her house for more than a year. The 69-year-old, who has mobility issues and a restrictive lung disease, said she even put signs on her front door: “Sorry, we’re not having visitors, please don’t come over.”

So when Trent received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from the comfort of her living room couch Wednesday morning, she was moved to tears.

“It’s just a burden lifted off my shoulders, something I don’t have to worry about now. … It’s been hard just to go out, I’ve been paranoid, like, ‘I need to get my vaccine,’ ” she told the Journal.

Members of Rio Rancho, Corrales and Sandoval County fire departments fanned out on Wednesday to deliver vaccine doses to Trent and others unable to leave their homes due to health or mobility problems.

Barbara Butcher, supervisor at Sandoval County Health Commons, said, to her knowledge, the county is among the first in the Southwest to do home vaccinations. The efforts have resulted in roughly 100 people getting vaccinated in the past two weeks.

I’m just really proud of the work we’ve done, considering how the whole vaccine rollout went in the beginning and availability. … We’re working as hard as we can,” she said.

Butcher said the county is registering Sandoval County residents for home vaccination through its Elderly and Frail Senior Program, as well as through the New Mexico Department of Health.

She said that to be eligible, Sandoval County residents with mobility problems must register for the vaccine and on their registration make it clear they are homebound.

Among those the crew visited Wednesday morning was a man who uses a wheelchair and lives in a double-wide on the sprawling mesa on the outskirts of town, a woman in an upscale housing community on the bluffs above Rio Rancho and another woman at a large assisted living facility near Corrales.

Sandoval County Fire and Rescue paramedic Shannon Farrell fills a syringe with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Some were nervous and asked many questions. Others just rolled up their sleeves and looked away. Once a shot is given, paramedics have to wait 15 minutes to make sure there is no adverse reaction.

Shianne Mitchell, with Rio Rancho Fire and Rescue, said that there are plenty of residents in Sandoval County who need the program and that everyone is “super-thankful.”

“Unfortunately, we have a big population of people who get missed,” she said, whether it’s because they don’t drive, have health issues, mobility issues or fall between the cracks of home health care and assisted living.

One of Mitchell’s first stops is the home of Carol Piatek, who said almost immediately, “You cannot imagine how much I appreciate this.”

Mitchell drew the vaccine into the needle in the kitchen as Piatek talked about the past year, which she described as “the scariest thing that I’ve ever lived through.”

“I don’t know what life would’ve been like if they had not invented the vaccine. I can’t imagine,” she said, adding that she and her husband have been afraid to do “everything.”

“We’ve just been staying in the house except to go out and get food because I’m just so afraid of getting sick,” she said. “I won’t be so terrified now when I go to the grocery store.”

At one point, her husband – who was vaccinated at a clinic – walked into the kitchen and jokingly said, “Geez, what service! How come I couldn’t get mine like that?”

Paramedic Shannon Farrell, who has been with Sandoval County Fire and Rescue since 2003, said the home vaccination program is “amazing.”

“These people can’t get out, or it’s really problematic for them to try to get out,” she said, adding that everyone they visit is “thrilled.”

“First of all, they can’t believe that people would actually come to their home. It’s so convenient for them,” Farrell said. She hopes the program can expand to those who live in far-flung places in Sandoval County, such as Torreon.

Around noon, Farrell and Sandoval County paramedic Greg Bobick pulled up to Trent’s house, where she lives with her granddaughter and two great-grandkids in a cul-de-sac in the middle of Rio Rancho.

Trent told them she has trouble getting around or standing for long periods and thought she might have to wait until everybody got the vaccine so she could “walk straight in.”

In the meantime, it’s been a constant weight on her mind.

“It’s been hard to be home all the time, and I was just so afraid of getting it and bringing it home. Everybody else is here,” she said, looking toward her great-grandson, Damien.

The mood was cheery as family members watched Farrell explain the vaccine process to Trent while Bobick helped Damien fix a malfunctioning Nerf gun.

Trent, whose mask bore the face of her pit bull mix, Donna, said she was in disbelief when she got the call about the home visit Tuesday.

“It was, like, ‘Oh, that’s amazing.’ It’s wonderful. That’s like a dream come true for someone like me who’s paranoid just to go to the doctor’s office – ‘Well, you have to come in’ – ‘No, there’s a pandemic. Have you heard about it?,’ ” she said, laughing along with Farrell and Bobick.

Butcher said the days are long for everyone involved, but the result is worth it.

“We’re so excited that it’s working and so thrilled,” she said. “The partnership has been so inspiring. Just when you get really tired, you look at all these people that are putting their whole heart and soul into it, and it’s really inspiring.”