After unveiling a web-based COVID-19 vaccine portal last week for residents to register for and schedule vaccinations within their proper phases, the Oklahoma State Department of Health recommended that those without Internet access or a computer request help from tech-savvy acquaintances or call 211.
The result? The call center of roughly 15 community-referral specialists fielded more than 9,600 calls on Friday, 211 Eastern Oklahoma Executive Director Ashlie Casey said. Pre-pandemic, the center prepped for 600-700 calls a day.
Many aging Oklahomans are anxious to track down a COVID-19 vaccine, Casey said. Although health officials directed them to her agency, a program of the Community Service Council nonprofit, there isn’t much they can do.
“A lot of people have that misconception; that we’re going to fix it for them,” Casey said. “That is not the system which the state has set forward for us.”
Specialists can’t register callers, nor do they have access to the state’s portal, Casey said. Specialists can, however, answer general questions about the vaccination process and provide online links to the portal or for more information. They’re also trained to provide referrals for wrap-around services such as housing, rental and food assistance.
Understanding how frustrating that can be as a caller, Casey asked foremost for patience.
“What is incredibly heart-wrenching to me is our call specialists are struggling,” she said. “We don’t have the resources to be able to help some of these callers, and that’s pretty hard.”
Casey said her program is in daily communication with the state Health Department, which has reportedly been bolstering call center numbers and addressing problems within the portal, and she is also reaching out to 211 centers across the country to see how they are fielding the influx of calls.
In the meantime, she recommended that those in need reach out to friends or family members who may be able to help them register through the online portal.
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