At least 150 people in various hotline centers have taken 330,000 calls in 12 months to address New Mexicans’ questions about the coronavirus and vaccinations, the state Department of Health says.
It’s an understatement to suggest a big effort is needed to get COVID-19 vaccinations to 1.68 million eligible residents. Thousands of people ranging from state employees to emergency medical technicians to clinic translators pitch in daily to get vaccines to the homebound, technologically challenged, those who don’t speak English and the population in general.
Some of the hotline workers are paid, and some are volunteers.
“People on the hotline, they all really want to help people,” said Heidi Krapfl, a deputy division director with the Department of Health. “They’ve also unfortunately been yelled at. So we really ask people to be patient and to be kind while we’re doing this service.”
They help people register for the shots, get them technical assistance, help those without cellphones or computers, line up transportation to clinics and reserve wheelchairs for those who need them when they arrive.
In Torrance County and other places around the state, emergency medical technicians, both paid and volunteer, play a big role in vaccine distribution.
Matt Propp, emergency manager for Torrance County, said it’s been a joy to see county residents pitch in.
He expects to hold mobile vaccination clinics in the towns of Encino and Duran, as well as visits to homebound people to deliver shots.
“I mean, it’s a big undertaking for us, for sure,” Propp said. “The great thing is that all of our community partners … have been awesome.”
As of Friday, the state reported 771,211 New Mexicans — more than 45 percent of those eligible — had received at least one coronavirus vaccination. A tracking project by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Wall Street Journal said last week New Mexico still leads the nation in its share of residents vaccinated.
Some clinics are assisted by members of the New Mexico National Guard. And many clinics also have volunteers from the Medical Reserve Corps, a group that includes nurses, doctors, retirees and nonmedical volunteers.
Medical Reserve Corps volunteer coordinator Bobbie MacKenzie said 200 to 300 from her organization volunteer weekly to work at the clinics. Some do data entry, some assist in traffic control, some greet and others give injections.
MacKenzie said the “people who are receiving the vaccinations are very grateful and excited.”
At La Familia Medical Center’s clinic on Alto Street, vaccine recipients on Friday received their shots in waves of 11. The first group contained nine patients primarily speaking Spanish.
Medical assistant Marie Martinez, who administered shots to a couple of the patients, said to one, “¿Cómo te sientes?” or “How are you feeling?”
That patient said “fine” in Spanish and thanked her as she handed him a gift bag for vaccine recipients.
“De nada,” she said.
La Familia spokeswoman Jasmin Holmstrup said her agency, a federally qualified health center, has administered more than 3,500 coronavirus vaccine doses and intends to do far more.
In a couple of weeks, Holmstrup said, the center will deliver the shots to patients who are on routine visits to their doctor.
Seventy-five percent of La Familia’s patients are Hispanic, some of whom need translators.
That’s why three of the four women who administered vaccinations Friday morning speak excellent Spanish. Martinez said she doesn’t consider herself fluent in Spanish, but while working at La Familia the past three years, her Spanish “has improved exponentially,” she said.
“Oh, I love it,” she said. “We just have an awesome patient population.”
The 11 in the first wave left, and soon 11 more came in for their shots. Cindy Edds, head of the coronavirus vaccination team, said to the three other women giving shots: “Ready to rock ’n’ roll?”