CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — In the latest effort to get as many Virginians vaccinated against COVID-19 as quickly as possible, a specialized unit from Chesterfield County Fire & EMS is bringing the shots to patients’ homes.

Launched in 2014, the Medical Integrated Healthcare Unit (MIH) aims to address the needs of frequent users of the 9-1-1 system, as well as residents who have unmet medical needs, with the goal of connecting residents to existing community and medical resources to help manage their conditions and reduce their use of emergency services.

“We found that way too often on 9-1-1 calls, our patients — we’d take them to the hospital to fix a problem, but we only fixed the immediate problem,” said Fire & EMS Operational Medical Director Dr. Allen Yee. “We didn’t fix the cause of their fall or their illness. So we started up this program to link people to medical resources, to physicians, and to just get people what they need.”

In many cases, Yee said that the people needing repeating assistance from first responders are people who are homebound or elderly.

Right now, what they need is a COVID-19 vaccine. But for bed-bound or homebound Chesterfield County residents, going to a vaccination site is not an option. That’s why MIH stepped in.

“We developed a program where we vaccinate bed-bound patients,” Yee said. “We partnered with Emergency Management, some home care companies, the Health Department, and we identified these patients, and then they send us a list of the patients, we schedule a visit, and we’ll vaccinate them in their home.”

Yee said that MIH partners with the Chesterfield Health District and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to get its allotment of vaccines to administer to homebody individuals.

Even though the people that the MIH Unit are vaccinating can’t leave their homes, they can still be exposed to the virus by their caregivers and loved ones.

(Photo: Olivia Jaquith)

“The patients who are bed-bound have a lot of comorbidities, lots of disease problems,” Yee said. “They’re at the highest risk, if they were to get COVID.”

Although Chesterfield Health District services Chesterfield County, Powhatan County and the City of Colonial Heights, this home vaccination option is currently only available in Chesterfield County.

“We believe that every person who is eligible for the vaccine should be able to receive the vaccine,” Emergency Medical Services Chad Vaughn said. “Some cannot come out to our vaccination clinics that we are having there at the Public Safety Training Center or the Chesterfield County Fairgrounds. But if they cannot get there, then we should be able to deliver a service to get to them.”

Vaughn and Yee said that the list of such patients is ever-growing, as home care companies in the County feed lists to the unit.

“We are on a time restraint, of course, based on the vaccine and the time that, once you pierce the vial, how long you have until it has to be used,” Vaughn said. “We have to make sure that we’re maintaining that time, and we’re making sure there is absolutely no waste of any vaccine.”

To keep up with demand and administer as many COVID-19 vaccines to homebound patients as possible, MIH is calling in additional support from the County’s team of first responders.

“Our Mobile Integrated Healthcare program is comprised of four firefighter paramedics that are assigned to dayworker, 40-hour-a-week operations,” Vaughn said. “We’re then using off-duty firefighter paramedics that maybe worked the day before […] that are then coming back on their off days to then go out and do these mobile vaccinations.”

Although this program is just getting started, Yee said that so far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“With our typical POD [point of dispensing] that we do, the patient will move on to a scheduling booth or to their observation booth, and so you’re only with the person for 30 seconds to a minute,” he said. “But when we go to a patient’s home, because there’s no observation person, we get to sit there and talk with the patients and their families, and they are just so grateful to be able to get vaccinated.”