Mon, Apr

Systemic Failure: Why Can't I Get An In-home Flu Shot For My Elderly Mom?


WELLNESS - It is flu season, and medical professionals in governments and private medical practices are recommending we get our shot.

There is some worry that this flu season could be especially bad because with COVID cases lowering, in some states, more people will be out of the house, spreading their germs and viruses. 

I am the primary caregiver for my 101-year-old mom. As she ages, my caregiving duties increase, which I need to accept. Regardless, times can be very hard, and stressful. However, with COVID, and the fear of the disease and its tremendous mortality amongst seniors, my worries of bringing the virus home, the lockdowns, the continuing recklessness of the unvaccinated and mask wearing refusers, have added unnerving and stressful worries to my caregiving. 

My Mom has two dosages of the Moderna COVID vaccination. The first was administered at a mass injection site. But, this was very hard on her, and me. Indeed, at her age, as a shut-in with increasing lack of mobility, any trip outside is a major, stressful undertaking. Another caregiver dresses her for her outings, and for the elderly just getting dressed is an ordeal.  

For any trip I must help her into the car. She needs to get out of a wheel chair, perform contortionist acts to be seated in the passenger seat, and then I carefully drive. Her physician’s office is nine miles away, and this is a major undertaking.  

At the destination there is more contortionist acts when I help her out of the car into the wheelchair which I then push to the doctor’s office, clinic, lab, and so forth. These trips are very hard on her, and me as caregiver.  

These hardships are then duplicated in the return trip. 

Moreover, as a shut in, her world view narrows, and to be suddenly thrust into the world, into the public, causes unease in her. Her slow world in the home is shattered by the fast paced life. She feels very vulnerable. These are additional strains on her. 

There are public transportation vans for senior citizens and the home bound, but in the age of COVID the fewer exposures to public the better, and should I use the service I could be delaying, or denying, some senior who needs the service when I can drive her. 

My Mom received her second COVID shot in home. It was fantastic. Two young people, a man and a woman, both Hispanic, both very professional and courteous came to the house, and inside gave my mom her vaccination. A fireman stood sentry on the street and did not come into the house. 

It was done quickly and efficiently. I feel relieved that she is vaccinated, and so does she.  

Through government involvement on national and local levels, my mom was provided a greatly needed in-home service of the COVID vaccination. Now, we are in flu season, and I would like an in home flu shot.  

I cannot get one. 

Why cannot my Mom receive an in-home flu shot? 

If she gets the flu, at her age, it may kill her. If not, the illness will wreak health havoc which could lead to serious illness or death. Should she get the flu and become seriously ill that sets into motion a series of medical adventures which can go wrong, are very stressful, and very expensive. 

This is an outline of the nerve wracking, and expensive medical adventures she, and I, have already gone through. 

  • A fall or medical emergency which requires the paramedics. Stressful and expensive for tax payers and the insurance companies.
  • She arrives at an emergency room. She is checked in and sees first the emergency room attendants and nurses, and then a doctor. Stressful and expensive with confusion and what could be fatal errors. My mom has a severe medical allergy which could lead to death. She wears a medical alert bracelet stating this. Yet, after an exam in an emergency room a doctor recommended an allergic causing medicine for her pain. The admitting nurses and attendants did not do their job and read the medical alert bracelet. This was not put into her chart. I had to corner the doctor and inform him of her server allergy, avoiding what could have been a medical catastrophe, and an expensive lawsuit.
  • If the event is serious she is hospitalized. Very stressful and very expensive. 
  • If she recovers, then there are in home services. Stressful and expensive. 

Should my mom, along with many senior citizens who are home bound, get the flu to the point where there is a medical emergency, all of these items can occur. 

Many of these, if not all, of these medical adventures could be averted should she get an in-home flu shot. But there is a systematic failure of the medical community, government and private.  They do not seem to want to help the elderly and easily prevent illnesses with an in-home flu shot. There seems to be no concern about putting the elderly, and their caregivers and family, through very stressful and expensive times which could be prevented through a very simple procedure. 

For weeks I have been trying to get an in-home flu shot for my Mom. I have reached out to multiple organizations, government offices, insurers, private entities. I have called, e-mailed and done so many on-line searches for what should be a simple service all is now a blur of information, and it is very stressful. All say no to in-home flu shots. 

Some of the public and private agencies I contacted: 

  • Her primary care physician’s group is UCLA. The university’s medical department does not supply the service. Overall UCLA, and her primary physician in their program, have been excellent, but UCLA is lacking in this area. 
  • Medicare. I have called and searched their website for information. On the internet I found nothing, going from webpage to webpage. Perhaps this is what Lewis Carrol had in mind when Alice fell down the rabbit hole. On the phone I was transferred between departments and then disconnected mid-call. 
  • My Mom receives survivor benefits from her husband who was a Trouble Shooting Lineman for Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Yes, there are news reports about excessive and questionable lunches, but those do not represent all. My Dad would not talk much about his work, but I do remember him telling the family that during storms he would climb slippery, tree and shrub blocked power poles, to repair downed power lines.  Ink the rain he would splice the two hot wires and the electricity would surge through his body. He retired when after he transferred to the high voltage power line work, those towers along La Cienga and Washington Boulevards, when a co-worker was very badly burned from working on the lines. He fell off a power pole and was nearly paralyzed, and he returned to work after recuperation. I called LADWP’s retirement department, and left an unanswered message.  
  • LADWP uses the Health Insurance Company United Health for additional coverage. There is an annual in-home nurses visit. The nurse does a work-up of my Mom’s vitals, makes assessments and make suggestions to improve her health, which will also save them costs for insurance disbursements to cover illnesses. Yet, after I contacted them I learned they too do not offer in-home flu shots. 
  • I contacted the office of my L.A. County Supervisor, Holly Mitchell. It seems that if it is the shot for the once in one-hundred year COVID pandemic, shots are available, but for the yearly, potentially deadly flu season, that is unknown. After some time I am still waiting for a call back. 
  • Los Angeles County Health Department has just opened drive-through flu shots, but they are in Pomona and other areas around twenty-five miles away. If my Mom can barely stand a nine mile drive, then this is out of the question. Will other drive-throughs open closer to her home? Who knows, but why must I constantly scan the news and websites to find out for a service which should be regular, and not out of the ordinary. 
  • For my Mom’s health care I use CVS, which is very good, but, I can only get my Mom’s flu shot in-store, they will not go out to the car in the parking lot with my Mom inside. 
  • I contacted L.A. Care, the Local Initiative Health Authority for Los Angeles County, which is a good public health agency. They do not offer in-home flu shots. The phone rep recommended I try Los Angeles Department of Public Social Services. I call them, and go through the many phone prompts to finally get to in-home services, #7 on the phone. The phone rings once, and then is disconnected. I try this repeatedly, and then give up. 
  • An internet search for private in-home care brought up one which charges $45, reasonable, but my Mom is not within their service. Another wants $299. I did not check if my mom is within their service area. The price is too high, and I don’t want to place more personal information onto another database whose security and privacy is unknown. 

Being a caregiver is stressful, time consuming, and exhausting. Being a senior citizen is full of cares and worries, aches, pains, at times sadness, loneliness, and potential serious illness from the COVID pandemic, and the annual flu season. 

Everywhere I searched I hit walls. There are limits to one’s ability to give care. It looks like I need to take my Mom to a CVS for her flu shot. I will cover her in a blanket, make sure she has her face mask firmly in place, and pray of the best. 

Despite the constant chatter from public and private institutions of their intentions to take care of seniors, it all falls flat when a basic service of in-home flu shots is not available. In-home flu shots could protect not only the senior citizen for whom it is intended, but if the medical community could bring extra doses and there are others in the household who may have been hold-outs to the shot and they see grandma or grandpa, or even mom or dad take the shot, they could be inclined to also get a flu shot, spreading even further a blanket of protection for all of us to avoid the flu. 

But, the medical community system is failing to help some of the most vulnerable with a basic service.

(Matthew Hetz is a Los Angeles native. He is a transit rider and advocate, a composer, music instructor, and member and former president and executive director of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra, and a contributor to CityWatch.)