Roving Amherst crew bringing vaccine to homebound folks in eight towns

  • A team of experts gets ready to vaccinate homebound residents in their Granby homes on Monday. From left are Michael Sawicki, with the Amherst Fire Department; Dr. Herb Abelson, Granby Board of Health; Gene Os, emergency medical services director in Granby; Robert Czerwinski, Granby fire chief; Emma Dragon, health director; and David Kelsen, Amherst Fire Department. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/11/2021 8:19:34 PM

AMHERST — Knowing that her husband, Dan Georgakas, is unable to leave their Amherst home, Barbara Saltz worried that getting him vaccinated against COVID-19 might be impossible.

“When vaccines became available, we were trying to figure out how in the world to get Dan inoculated,” Saltz said.

After making a call to Senior Services Director Mary Beth Ogulewicz, Saltz learned that an Amherst Fire Department ambulance would be able to bring a shot directly to him.

“We got all excited about getting the shot, which was unusual,” Saltz said upon receiving the news.

“It’s exemplary work of government,” Georgakas added.

Earlier this week, the ambulance continued on its rounds, making its way around Granby on Monday and making sure other residents unable to leave their homes can still get the vaccine.

The 32 people served so far this week by the roving vaccine service are among 60 homebound people from area communities who have received protection from COVID-19 through a program launched late last week. More than 100 people are already scheduled to be part of the program.

Coordinated by Assistant Fire Chief Jeffrey Olmstead, Public Health Director Emma Dragon and Ogulewicz, they partner with officials in communities to identify who needs this specialized service, Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson said.

“The main thing is we’re getting to folks who couldn’t get the vaccine any other way,” Nelson said. “We want to make it as easy and as less stressful as we can.”

Dragon said town and state officials have helped develop the comprehensive plan.

“We value the vulnerable and underserved individuals within our community and feel committed to getting them vaccinated,” Dragon said.

“It’s a wonderful reflection of our collaborative efforts and cross-jurisdictional efforts with public health with assistance with fire and Councils on Aging,” Dragon added.

The team came up with a matrix to identify those who are homebound, arranging with a representative from the senior center or from the fire department in each community, which along with Amherst and Pelham include Belchertown, Granby, Hadley, Hatfield, South Hadley and Ware.

“They know the folks in their town,” Nelson said.

A schedule is then created to streamline the response, with Olmstead, Dragon and firefighter/paramedic Matt Chipman riding in the ambulance.

The first round has generally taken a few hours each day and supplements the more than 5,000 doses already provided to eligible people at clinics conducted at Amherst Regional High School and the Bangs Community Center.

“This work is what we do and how it’s supposed to go,” Nelson said. “We want to get shots in people’s arms.”

Several weeks will be needed to complete the plan to vaccinate those identified so far.

“It is really profound,” Ogulewicz said. “Taking care of people and returning their life to more expansiveness.”

“It is truly moving to be part of this program, having residents trust our practice and safety with entering their homes when many have been shut in for a year and isolating from others,” Dragon said, noting that the program shows value to community members who shouldn’t be forgotten.

Saltz said she has already gotten both doses of vaccine, and once Georgakas gets his second shot, they will be able to see family in person for the first time in more than a year.

“We will probably all start crying when we can see each other again,” Saltz said.

People should contact their local health boards or senior centers to learn more about the service, while those in Amherst or Pelham should call the Amherst Senior Center at 259-3060.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at

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