Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dear Anyone In Charge:

In case you haven't noticed, when I get upset, I like to write. When I get upset about something that is going on that elected officials can do something about, I write to them. Below is a letter that I wrote to Senators Evan Bayh and Dick Lugar, Rep. Pete Visclosky, the entire Lake County Board of Commissioners, Indiana Senator Karen Tallian, Indiana Rep. Shelli VanDenburgh, and Governor Mitch Daniels. I don't think I am asking too much...although I apparently don't know how to keep things short.

Dear anyone who will listen:

I am writing to you regarding the recent distribution of H1N1 vaccines in Lake County. There are several problems with this that need to be addressed, and hopefully lessons can be learned for the future.

A friend of mine has a 23 month old son who has a genetic heart defect. He has had 2 open heart surgeries. Her cardiologist highly recommended that her son be vaccinated. She was given a toll free number, 888-H1N1-BUG to call. She called the number on Wednesday October 14th, and was told that the county was in possession of the vaccine, but was deciding how to distribute. She was promised a phone call no later than Thursday October 22nd, telling her where and when to go to get her son vaccinated, and that he was on a high priority list.

By Monday October 19th, she was getting very anxious. If her son contracted the virus, it could attack his heart and kill him very quickly. Or it could settle in his lungs and attack his already compromised immune system. Another friend of mine and I also called the 888-H1N1-BUG on Monday. We each have children under a year old in daycare and wanted to vaccinate them. We each spoke to a very nice man who took our name and number and told us that they had two H1N1 specialists returning people’s calls. That same day, we each received a return phone call, from a very nice woman. We were told that the county had the vaccine, but they only received about 20% of what they were expecting. The initial plan was to set up clinics in schools, but they didn’t receive enough to do that, so they were formulating a back-up plan. We were each told that there was to be a meeting on Tuesday the 20th to prioritize the doses that they had. We also were told that we would receive an e-mail no later than Thursday the 22nd telling us when and where to go.

On Tuesday the 20th, my friend with the son with the heart defect was becoming even more anxious. She called the phone number again, and this time was told that within 24 hours, she would receive a phone call and e-mail directing her what to do and where to go. Wednesday morning, the 21st, another friend of ours at work got fed up and took his 2 year old son to the government complex to see if he could get more information. He was able to get the vaccine for his son and called my friend whose son has the heart defect. She immediately left work and was able to get the vaccine for her son after an hour of waiting. There was only one person at that time administering the vaccine. Around this same time, an e-mail went out from the people that we had spoken to from the 888-H1N1-BUG telling us that the clinic at the county complex would be open Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday 9am-3:30pm. My friend who was promised a phone call received this e-mail, but not the promised phone call. And her son was in no way prioritized.

I was fortunate enough to have wonderful in-laws who agreed to take my daughter first thing this morning. They got to the government complex around 8:45am. They went in the east entrance, and there were no signs or anyone to tell them which way to go. They asked the security guard. They had to up the escalator, and there was a line. So they got in line. Fortunately, the person in front of them guided them down the hall, through an office, and on the extreme other end of the office, they had to get a number. This scene was repeated over and over, as each new person who came up the escalator got in the line, not realizing that they needed a number. The office was full of people, so after fighting through the people to get a number, they had to turn around and fight their way back through the people, go back down the hall, and get back in the same line. They waited in the line for more than 2 hours. When it was their time to get my daughter vaccinated, there were only three people administering the doses. They were given a card, proof that she had received the vaccine and on what day. They were told that she needs to return in 30 days to get a booster. However, they have no idea if there will even be any vaccine available at that time. Also, on Thursday the 22nd at 12:40pm, the Northwest Indiana Times reported that the clinic will not be open on Friday, as stated in the e-mail many people received.

I am sorry for the length of this letter to this point. However, I hope that my friends and I experiences will help improve the process next time. First of all, the county told the Northwest Indiana Times that they had contracted out the phone calls. However, the vendor did not tell the county of the promises they were making. Also, it would appear, the county and the vendor are not on the same page as to when the clinic is going to be open. I am not sure if the county and the vendor communicated at all.

Secondly, the county knew that they told the general public that they had these vaccines and the first full day would be Thursday the 22nd. However, they were not prepared on a multitude of levels. They could have had signs leading up to the courthouse and in the lobby directing the way. Once people got off of the escalator, there should have been an employee directing people, or at least a sign explaining that the first step is to obtain a number. Also, why would you have to go down a hall, past a huge line, into an office full of people to get a number? Why could they not have moved the number dispensing machine to the top of the escalator? This would have made much more sense and caused much less confusion and crowding.

Thirdly, many of the people whose children received the vaccine have additional questions regarding the H1N1 virus and the vaccine. These questions include, but are not limited to: How important is it for my child to receive a booster in 30 days? Will they still be protected if we cannot get them the booster? What are the possible side effects of the vaccine? Who all (including adults) should receive the vaccine? What are the symptoms of the H1N1 virus? At what point should I call my doctor or take my child directly to the hospital if they start showing symptoms? These and other questions could have been addressed in an informational pamphlet that could have been made available at a table either in the lobby of the government center or in the open space at the top of the escalator.

Finally, there were only three people administering the vaccine. You cannot tell me that the county could not have hired a dozen or two nurses for 3 days to help distribute this important vaccine. They knew that the public was and is extremely concerned about this pandemic. There is a rumor, whether true or not, of a perfectly healthy child in Lake County who contracted the swine flu and is now on life support.

My in-laws reported that everyone in line was orderly and no one was becoming disruptive. However, they were done by 11am. I am sure that people who arrived later and had to wait more than 3 hours with small children had their patience wearing thin. In my and many other people’s opinion, the county has really dropped the ball. We understand that they received much less vaccine than they originally planned. However, they had almost a week to come up with a new plan. And the new plan seemed to be to wing it. I expect more out of one of the largest counties in our state. Mistakes, obviously, show us what needs improving. Please pass on our displeasure and do what you can to help the distribution of the next round of vaccines go much smoother.

Thank you for your time,


Gail O’Connor

I definitely encourage everyone who had an experience with this clinic today to contact your representatives. We should not stand for such inadequacy in government. Especially where our kids are concerned! (Tracy...I'm talking to you! 4 hours??) You can e-mail them directly from the website here. I also encourage everyone to leave their thoughts in the comments section, you can put your name, or be anonymous. The more people who speak up, the greater chance we have of something productive coming out of the frustrating situation!

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