PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — “We are frontline workers.” That’s the message Florida hospice workers are sending to leaders at Florida’s Capitol as they make a big push to be given COVID-19 vaccine priorities.
It’s a tough job that’s made even more complicated by COVID-19, as hospice workers work on the frontlines of the virus day after day to ensure patients don’t die alone or without support.
Hospice workers like Daphni Tsongranis and Bethany Duquette help patients in their critical last moments, but unlike nurses, doctors and assisted care center workers, they weren’t identified for frontline distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We kind of get forgotten about until an end of life crisis happens so they may not think of us as frontline workers because we may not be on the scene,” Tsongranis explained.
Many hospice workers go to patient’s homes, hospitals and nursing homes and because they don’t show up to a particular location every day, they often aren’t included in vaccine distributions.
“We are the frontline workers for people at end of life and we should be part of that distribution. We should be recognized like that,” Tsongranis added.
Tsongranis and Duquette’s employer, Seasons Hospice and Palliative Care in Pinellas County, found a loophole by partnering with an assisted living facility to vaccinate their employees alongside the long-term care staff at Heron House in Largo.
However, they say they want the same opportunities for the other 20,000 in-home hospice workers across Florida so that they can protect themselves and their critically ill patients.
“We’re dealing with a very compromised population,” Duquette explained.
The Florida Hospice and Palliative Care Association recently sent a letter to Florida leaders asking for all hospice workers to be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines, adding that the timing of the vaccines is crucial.
“Hospices are being told that their team members will need to have the vaccine to access patients residing in long-term care facilities. In some cases, families are expressing fear about hospice team members entering their homes unless those team members have received the vaccine. Given the intervals required between first vaccine and the booster, it is imperative that hospice team members be given priority to the vaccination system to avert serious access to caring for patients issues in the near future,” Paul Ledford, the CEO of The Florida Hospice and Palliative Care Association wrote in the letter.