By MICHAEL FORSTER ROTHBART • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
As Margaret Wolff waited during the recommended 15-minute observation period following her inoculation Saturday afternoon, Jan. 30, Rita Tetenes was at her home here.
Tetenes was not one of the lucky ones.
Although she and her husband Leo are in their 80s, they still live independently in a far, hilly corner of Otsego County. Schoharie County begins across the narrow valley from their home, and the Delaware county line is at the bottom of the hill.
“We have no computer at our home. We don’t have cell service. You need a satellite phone to make calls out here,” Tetenes said during a call from her house.
She has not used email since she retired four years ago, and does not know if her old flip phone can send text messages.
“I’m going to do whatever it takes, but it has to be via the phone. I heard about the clinic at Clark but I called and all the spots were already taken. We didn’t even have a chance,” she said.
“Every place that we’ve called, whoever we spoke to, they’ve all been extremely nice, but if they can’t help us, they give us another phone number,” Tetenes said. The bottom line is that “no one can help, at this point.”
Her primary strategy has been to call the state vaccine hotline about four times per day, plus ask friends to phone her if they hear of openings. “The hotline is open ’til 10 p.m., so that means I have plenty of time to keep calling the 1-800 number, and that’s all we can do.”
Only twice has she managed to reach an operator rather than a recording.
She was “stunned” the first time someone answered the hotline. The couple was offered an appointment slot in Plattsburgh, but turned it down.
“Up near the border, that’s more than a day’s trip for us. That would mean going up, staying overnight someplace, which we really would not like to do,” she said.
Generally, the couple has not travelled further than Oneonta or Cobleskill since the pandemic began. “We’re willing to travel, I just don’t want to drive four hours away when that’s difficult for us.”
The Tetenes’ situation is not uncommon, according to Tamie Reed, county Office of Aging director. “Our big barrier is: Everything has been designed around online access, and certainly our senior population … don’t have that access, in a rural community,” she said. “Even if you call in on the phone line, you’re being asked, if you can’t get an appointment immediately, for an email address.
And that just isn’t working.”
According to the latest directive from the state, the local 65+ population is supposed to get vaccinated at state-operated clinics or pharmacies, not at the county Health Department offices at The Meadows.
However, there are no state sites nearby and pharmacy appointments can only be made online.
“It’s a huge challenge for our population,” said Reed. She’s hopeful that a proposed state vaccination site will be established soon at SUNY Oneonta, but has no definite information if that will happen.
When seniors do manage to score an appointment, Reed said, her office can help coordinate transportation when needed.
Those who need rides weekdays can call “Getthere,” a “mobility management program” at 855-373-4040. It’s operated by Rural Health Network of South Central New York.