CINCINNATI — Some residents of two low-income, senior-living apartment buildings in Avondale are ready, willing and recently eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine. But an unexpected obstacle stands in their way, and it's not a lack of available doses.
"We've got signs up in the buildings, and I spoke with one of the managers here at the Avon View, and she said she needed to contact corporate," said Sandra Jones Mitchell, who heads up SOACT -- Serving Older Adults through Changing Times -- a Cincinnati-based, nonprofit advocacy agency for seniors.
"In the meantime, I'm going to need to take your sign down," Jones Mitchell recalls the manager telling her.
Columbus, Ohio-based Wallick Communities owns Avon View and nearby Haddon Hall Apartments, both of which house people 55 and older and living with low income. Mitchell said her work to provide residents with COVID-19 testing, personal protective equipment and now the vaccine hit roadblocks when Wallick denied SOACT's requests to enter the building and administer the tests and distribute the items.
"When they denied us early on to do the COVID testing inside the building, I knew we were going to have a fight," she said.
Like many low-income, senior-living communities, Wallick receives financial assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for Avon View and Haddon Hall. As a result, Jones Mitchell believes the firm should not be allowed to deny entrance for administering the COVID-19 vaccine.
"If you're receiving HUD dollars, those are our tax dollars. There's got to be a way that those doors need to open," she told WCPO.
"It's just not fair."
Renee Mahaffey Harris, CEO of the Center for Closing the Health Gap, agrees with Jones Mitchell.
"I want to use the word outraged," she said. "I just, this cannot happen."
Mahaffey Harris said more than 60 residents of the two buildings had already signed up to be vaccinated when they were told to stay off the premises. Assuming supply was available, the plan was to begin administering the injections next week.
"To be told and for residents to say, 'We're ready,' and for the health department to say, 'We're going to figure out a way to make this happen,' and for the owners or the property managers to say, 'We will not let you in,' is just outrageous and ridiculous," she said.
Jones Mitchell said she has been contacted by a member of Cincinnati City Council and a local state representative about the matter.
Meanwhile, she said, her team and the residents are ready and waiting.
"We are ready. And so, we just need the support of the management of the buildings, because the residents are ready," she said.
On Saturday, Wallick Communities sent this response to WCPO:
"To protect our residents and associates, Wallick closed the common and gathering spaces at all of its communities at the beginning of the pandemic last year. They remain closed for the continued safety of our residents and associates. Because of these ongoing closures, there is not a space available and vaccines cannot be administered at Avon View and Haddon Hall."
However, Wallick Communities has posted a media report on its website about a Columbus-area assisted-living facility where residents received vaccinations on-site in January. WCPO has requested further clarification from Wallick on the company's policy.
WCPO also reached out to the Cincinnati Health Department for comment and is waiting to hear back.
Anyone looking for help connecting with a vaccine provider can email Lisa Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.