Westward Ho hotel, School of Social Work, ASU, residential, residents, Collaborative

ASU Community Collaborative tackles pandemic-caused social isolation with vaccination clinics

Until they received their COVID-19 vaccines inside their home at the Westward Ho in downtown Phoenix, many of the mostly older, low-income residents of the former hotel had been afraid they might get the disease if they came close to unvaccinated people.

Some had tried to schedule vaccine appointments at local vaccination sites on their own through the county website or over the phone. But with time slots filling fast, problems with the technology left some residents on hold for hours. Their solution was to spend more time alone in their rooms to avoid infection.

All that changed, though, when an Arizona State University unit that was already providing several other services to the residents stepped in to assist.

The ASU Community Collaborative at the Westward Ho saw the difficulties residents were having lining up a vaccination outside the hotel and decided to try to bring vaccines inside.

The Collaborative provides residents with several social services including socialization counseling, case management, access to technology, technology assistance and a food pantry.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of residents’ group activities involved interacting with each other, such as coloring and making crafts – which didn’t take place anymore.

Rooms that residents used to flock to for Super Bowl parties, movie nights or sessions with social work students sat empty. Some activities had been moved outdoors to provide physical distancing, but many residents were uncomfortable going outside as daytime temperatures began to rise.

Resident Lee Hersey had received chemo and radiation to treat her breast cancer, which meant being outside for these activities was a huge challenge. Along with the disappointment of not being able to have indoor activities, she had become bored of the things she once loved to do.

“Getting vaccinated was really important,” Hersey said, who said at first, she engaged only in activities that she could do inside her room. “I used to love doing counted cross-stitching, to read and cook, but I don’t even want to do those things anymore because I’ve done them so much.”

Stacey Gandy, coordinator of the Collaborative, part of the ASU School of Social Work, said getting back to something resembling normal life was a top priority.

“I just started making phone calls and reaching out to anyone and everyone who could possibly have information on scheduling a vaccination clinic for the residents here,” Gandy said. “The residents are in a high-risk category, one by their age, but then also because many residents have other medical issues.”

After many phone calls, the pharmacies at Safeway supermarkets were the most responsive, Gandy said. Safeway agreed to provide the clinic.

Many residents jumped at the opportunity to get vaccinated when they found out, including resident Robert Thomas.

“I was very excited when I went downstairs and the lady came up to me and said, ‘You can get in line here at a certain time tomorrow and we’ll be there, so you can make an appointment’,” Thomas said. “It was important to get it so I can protect myself and others around me... and to keep me as healthy as possible.”

For Hersey, getting vaccinated meant getting closer to being able to go back to her job working night shifts in the video room, which gave her the opportunity to socialize.

Ninety-four residents came to the first clinic during the second week of March and 104 showed up at the second one in early April. Some attending the second clinic were there to receive their first doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

All in all, one-third of the Collaborative’s residents were vaccinated at the clinics. “Many residents were so, so grateful. They showed extreme gratitude and excitement,” Gandy said. “There were many residents whom I spoke with as we were scheduling their time to come, who were just teary on the phone and just kept saying thank you.”

The 21 residents who received their first dose while others were getting their second will be scheduled to receive their second shot at the nearest Safeway Pharmacy.

“From the first day everything was closed in March 2020, I looked out my window and there was no traffic and I thought I'd walk downtown for a little bit. It was like a ghost town, so I am very excited for that to change like it has been. I’m very excited about that because we as humans have to keep in touch with each other,” Thomas said.

Written by Morgan Carden, marketing communications, ASU School of Social Work.