By  Nikola Alenkin and Ernie Powell

One million Americans dead from COVID-19. As of this week, 90,581 Californians dead from Covid-19. In Los Angeles County the death toll is 31,989. Despite health precautions, we know that the most vulnerable population is seniors and people with disabilities, especially those that are homebound.

This story begins with a phone call made in 2020. As the pandemic was getting more deadly, a tenant living at Barnard Way in Santa Monica died of Covid-19. Barnard Way is a 61-unit Section 8 complex with older, disabled, and poor residents. A friend, Shawn Casey O’Brien, contacted his County Board of Supervisor’s office to request that the building residents be tested. A young staffer spoke with Shawn and after two meetings indicated that the County itself could not provide the testing. The staffer suggested that the residents go to a local testing location just a few miles away. We surmised that other buildings could be having similar frustrations with the lack of a response. Hence, we organized and formed COMIT. Activists were recruited from each of the five supervisorial districts.  COMIT, in partnership with Social Security Works California, is the “Coalition for Mobile In-home Testing and Vacations.”

Finally, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed by a vote of 5 – 0 a resolution that created a vaccination program to serve “The Homebound.” People are homebound for typically medical reasons. They need extra help in shopping and basic daily needs. They often require intensive support. A homebound person needs the help of another person or medical equipment such as crutches, a walker, or a wheelchair to get them around. An estimate in the resolution indicated that as many as 275,000 people in L.A. County are homebound.

As reported in the Becker Hospital Journal in August of 2021, the percentage of homebound adults increased nationally from 5 percent in 2011 to 13 percent in 2020. Latino adults were most likely to be homebound in 2020 at 34 percent compared to African American adults at 22.6 percent and white adults at 10.1 percent.

The date of the resolution was March 23, 2021. It pointed out that the homebound are “the often forgotten homebound.” It also asked the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to present a plan within 21 days.

The plan was approved, and it seemed as though all systems were a go. Vaccinations would get started and lives would be saved. Starting with two phone calls, followed by in-depth organizing as news reports informed of death after death in Los Angeles, the State of California, across the U.S., and around the world, COMIT was ready for the next steps.

There is a saying in sports which is, “it ain’t over until it’s over.” COMIT knew that via citizen energy and good organizing, promises by both the Board of Supervisors and well over 60 members of their staff were made that vaccinations would take place. We believed that the County would do what it takes, inherent in its own plan and its own mandates to start vaccinations at a rapid speed with clear efficiency. After all, Los Angeles County is the biggest county in the nation (over 10 million residents, nearly 2 million over the age of 60) with a budget of $1.3 Billion along with the capacity to bring in more if needed. This is Los Angeles, the place for dreams, the place for hope, a liberal governmental body that cares for the elderly, the poor, and people from across the world. Especially given our large communities of color and their health disparities, we trusted that the County would respond.

Within a month of the decision to move forward, COMIT recognized several issues. For a while, it was difficult to even receive data such as how many vaccinations took place. In one two-month period, four different counts were reported to us. Finally, the leader of the Department of Health reported to the County Board that 4,718 vaccinations had taken place. That report was on Jan 25 of this year – 2022. Remember, the decision to start vaccinations for approximately 275,000 seniors was made in March of 2021. COMIT and the public expect more, much more.

So, we re-grouped and moved into full advocacy mode. The mission was and is – do what you promised to do. We set up four simple-to-understand “asks” of the County of Los Angeles. They are:

  • Report to the public every two weeks the number of vaccinations given through the homebound program. At first, the County said they could not keep count because they had contracted out the job of vaccinations to other groups. Finally, Dr. Ferrer, Director of L.A. County Public Health, reported the 4,718 figure of homebound vaccinations.

What was the result we expected? We expected that an aggressive and intense vaccination program would happen that daily took L.A. County closer to getting all the 275,000 seniors vaccinated.

  • Present to the public news about the program that included T.V. appearances, op-eds, or announcements in the Los Angeles Times and other outlets small and large. Not one single op-ed has been written. The T.V. station they plan to use to promote efforts is the little-seen channel 35, known mostly by just county and city employees. That is not the level of media required. What about channels 2, 4, 7, with reports and stories urging people that are homebound or their loved ones to make a simple phone call? (of note: The County has a phone number with people answering and setting up in-home appointments. It is 1-833-540-0473).
  • Informing each elected official in the county of the program so that they can tell their constituents about the availability of the program. This has not happened.
  • Report to the public the sources of funding as well as dollars spent. This has never been answered… a COMIT member had to ask a government agency in Sacramento. The answer? The funding is coming from Federal Covid Cares funds (Congress and the President) which adds up to $22 Billion for California. As the highest populated county in the state, we are confident that the dollars are there and should be forthcoming.

To date, we have not had one cogent answer to our asks. In dozens of meetings and calls with County staff responses have been, “we will get back to you” or “it’s not my department.” Asking for a meeting with the member of the elected Board of Supervisors who voted for this program? It is virtually impossible.

Too many lives have been lost to Covid-19. Good intentions need to turn into action.  Seniors and those that have disabilities who are homebound can’t wait anymore.  Hence in reporting the vaccination counts, the County has a higher probability of doing what was promised. In providing a media plan, the public knows about the homebound program and can use it. Letting elected officials know about the homebound program absolutely means they would let their constituents know. And knowing the dollars and where they are coming from adds confidence that good things happen.

We love Los Angeles. We know that the Board of Supervisors and their staffs do too. On behalf of millions of us that have known loved ones that died, we ask the following: Do the job you promised to do.

Ernie Powell is a Consultant with Social Security Works California. He has lived on the Westside since 1973.

 Nikola Alenkin is a Faculty Member in the School of Social Work at California State University, Los Angeles

 A previous version of this story first appeared in City Watch L.A.


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