Posted February 6, 2021
“Elected officials are failing our elderly residents. Now is the time for our Town, County and State officials to do what they’re elected to do, and help our senior citizens when they need it most! “
Greg Stevenson, former Tompkins County Legislator and current Chief, Enfield Vol. Fire Company; concluding his open email to elected officials, January 23, 2021
Chief Stevenson ought to know. His Fire Company’s rescue squad stands every day at the front lines in the battle against COVID-19. So far, more than 3,000 local residents have contracted the deadly disease, new cases now averaging about two dozen a day. At present count, 26 people locally have died from COVID, including at least one of our Town’s own residents, as best we can infer.
And to our Fire Chief, the issue hits home. In his open letter to all of us, Stevenson pointed to his own parents, ages 93 and nearly 97, who can’t find a shot of Moderna or Pfizer vaccine to save their lives—figuratively, if not literally. They can’t even get an appointment. In fact, Greg can’t navigate the system to find it for them himself. He calls his parents “prisoners in their home because they can’t access the vaccination.” His, and theirs, is a fear shared by many.
This agony and anxiety has got to end. We must get shots into the arms of the elderly. And we must stop blaming President Trump for this. Trump is gone. We must look closer to home; we must look to a New York State power-centric, overly-centralized, micromanaged health care bureaucracy, led by our Governor, Andrew M. Cuomo. We must fault it—and him—for blocking our dedicated, ingenious local health professionals from setting up the intelligently-managed, user-friendly systems they say they can create. Our local efforts cannot achieve the impossible; local leaders cannot immediately provide seniors the vaccine they need and want. But at least they can provide our older citizens the peace of mind they so desire to give them hope until their turn to roll up a sleeve arrives.
“Give me 10,000 doses of vaccine and we can do it better,” Tompkins County Administrator Jason Molino confidently told municipal leaders in his weekly conference call of February 4th. Yet he and his local Health Department find themselves bureaucratically straightjacketed, bound up in red tape with Property of State of New York stamped all over it.
Right now, our county’s ultra-efficient mall-based vaccination center is being given about 700 doses of vaccine per week, a pittance, a drop in New York State’s bucket. Albany starves us for a purpose. It’s because the State’s never-to-be-predicted Health Department Administrative Blob has chosen to syphon off locally-destined vaccine to feed a newly-created network of far-away State-run centers. Purportedly at full-tilt, those centers are vaccinating only about 500 people per day. Molino insists our local site could do it better, much better.
Mind you, the nearest of those State-run centers is in Syracuse or Binghamton. At this writing, neither is taking appointments. (Want to go to Potsdam to tap an available appointment? Pack a lunch; it’s a 277 mile drive.) And while our Governor and his underlings permit their State facilities to vaccinate the post-65 generation, those autocrats—err, bureaucrats—categorically deny the same opportunity to our county’s Health Department inoculators.
Instead, the State cuts local seniors loose to try their best pioneering the free-for-all frontier of area pharmacies. Good luck. Tompkins County Health Department website postings tell us that only Kinney Drugs and Tops in Lansing offer senior citizen vaccinations at present. I checked both this date. Neither is taking appointments. You can’t even book a Kinney appointment as far ahead as May (or, presumably, beyond).
The system is a mess. State Government must be held accountable. We may not have enough vaccine statewide to meet society’s immediate needs, but we should at least muster within our bureaucratic souls the will to swallow our pride, restrain our political arrogance, and provide the administrative procedures that will offer our seniors a glimmer of hope.
Here’s the one little candle I choose to light: Wednesday, February 10th, I will offer a Resolution for adoption by our Enfield Town Board. It may not be a perfect Resolution. It will likely be crumpled and tossed into Andrew Cuomo’s executive wastebasket. But it’s the best I can compose at the moment. And if nothing else, it’s a start. And it states our case.
I’ll leave as another issue for another day my earlier urgings that we Board members seek to dispel the conspiracy theories and false assumptions that have led some to hesitate in taking the COVID-19 vaccine. Our short-membered Town Board rejected my prior Resolution in January. I reserve the right to resubmit it later.
Rather, on Wednesday, I’ll address our more immediate crisis. I want our Board to urge New York relax the reins of power and respect those on the pandemic’s local front lines. My Resolution urges New York decentralize the vaccine distribution system and accord local officials the authority and discretion they need to parcel out precious vaccine as they know best; to allocate local centers sufficient supplies to accomplish their effort; and to establish the call centers and reservation hotlines that’ll put our community’s seniors confidently in the queue to receive vaccine when their turn for the life-saving drug finally arrives.
In my opinion and mine alone—yet feel free to join me, if you choose—New York State regulations speak to power first and to people second. Governor Cuomo has proven himself an incorrigible control freak. He portrays himself as the best and brightest among us. He holds no such monopoly on wisdom, and I’m tired of his pretending to think he does. There are some very bright people in Tompkins County too. And they may know a trifle more about Enfield’s health care needs than does our Chief Executive. Stuff the hype. We cannot all travel to Yankee Stadium to get a shot.
Local wise men and women have transformed an unused old department store at the mall into a state-of-the-art Point of Distribution for coronavirus vaccine. Give them the recognition, of course. But also, more importantly, give them the vaccine; vaccine they can use to inoculate our senior population; vaccine from a reliable, convenient point on the map, a distribution point that eliminates our seniors’ need to hopscotch pharmacy-to-pharmacy with endless frustration searching in vain for the appointment they never find.
I, myself, weighed in on that County-run February 4th conference call. So too did Lansing Supervisor Ed Lavigne. Our seniors, he said, “feel abandoned, hopelessly abandoned.” Well put, Ed. We hear it from our constituents. We’re on those front-lines, too.
New York State, give us some freedom; give us discretion; give us control. Give up a slice of your cherished executive power. Give it up for our seniors’ sake. Please do it now.