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Hospitals Inundated With Calls From Kupuna Hoping to Receive COVID Vaccine

January 25, 2021, 6:00 AM HST
* Updated January 24, 7:03 PM
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Registered Nurse Nona Jin Duggan administers COVID vaccine to Russ Starkey. (PC: Kona Community Hospital)

Kona man Mike Regis has been trying for more than a week to schedule an appointment to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

The 77-year-old sent an email to Big Island Now explaining how he called Kona Community Hospital’s hotline more than 80 times and was unable to get through.

“I don’t know if my timing was bad so I kept (calling) varying my time of day,” Regis told Big Island Now on Sunday. “I just need to get through this thing like everyone else. My goal is to maintain (my business) and not die from COVID.”

KCH along with Hilo Medical Center have been inundated with calls from kupuna hoping to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. Officials from both hospitals say kupuna have had trouble getting through their hotlines to make appointments.

KCH spokeswoman Judy Donovan said it took two to three days to get the hospital’s call line up and running due to infrastructure issues.

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Donovan said KCH doesn’t have clinic capabilities but put it together in one week. In the past three days, the clinic staff has vaccinated more than 250 kupuna.

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“We’re completely 100% invested in getting our kupuna vaccinated,” Donovan said.

Donovan said the hospital is scheduling vaccination appointments through mid-February, adding they are still inoculating KCH employees and community health care providers. Additionally, KCH created six new positions to assist in running the clinic.

HMC spokeswoman Elena Cabatu described similar issues at their facility where they have also hired an additional eight to 10 people to help with vaccinations.

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“We have about three and five people working the phones at the same time,” Cabatu said. “A lot of resources have just been put toward answering phones.”

Cabatu admitted the registration process is quite cumbersome, explaining it’s impossible if a person doesn’t have access to a computer or an email address.

“That’s why we’re asking people to check in on their neighbor because it’s (online registration) the most streamlined way to get an appointment,” she added.

Cabatu said there has been huge interest in getting the vaccine, which is good.

“The difference in this generation is they’re OK to be vaccinated and trust vaccinations which is good because they are the most at risk,” she said.

HMC has the capacity to administer 1,000 shots per week. Other community clinics have also started to provide the vaccine to their patients.

“This is about supply and meeting the demand,” Cabatu said. “We really need their (public) patience and understanding.”

Cabatu and Donovan urged kupuna to register for their shot online. KCH and HMC have a link that will provide a way to sign up. Both facilities are now pre-registering kupuna 65 years of age and older.

Approximately 14,000 kupuna live in Hawai‘i County, Donovan said, adding KCH is working to launch a large-scale clinic in partnership with the Department of Health, Hilo Bay Clinic, West Hawai‘i Community Health Center, Ali‘i Health Center, Hawai‘i County Civil Defense and the Mayor’s Office.

“This is a huge undertaking,” Donovan said. “They’re (vaccines) in high demand globally and we’re just trying to get to everybody as fast as we can.”

Work to provide vaccine clinics in Hawai‘i County’s rural communities is also underway.

Dr. Kaohimanu Akiona with Premier Medical Group has been working with the DOH and the county to identify the gaps.

For information on how to be vaccinated through Kona Community Hospital, click here.

For information on how to be vaccinated through Hilo Medical Center, click here.

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