Washington adult family homes frustrated over vaccine delays

Thousands of Washingtonians in the first priority group for the coronavirus vaccine feel as though they’ve been overlooked in the race to get vaccinated. 

A majority of the adult family homes in the state are still waiting for the vaccine, despite being a high-risk group, nearly two months after the first dose arrived.

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities in congregate care are at a much higher risk of contracting coronavirus and dying than their peers.

"It was one of those things where it was just uncertainty for like literally the longest time," said Marcia Barrett, an adult family home resident and Special Olympics Athlete, who waited months to get the vaccine.

When asked what Barrett looks forward to the most, she said being able to have a sense of normalcy following receiving the vaccine.

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"Being able to have a little bit of normalcy because that's something that for people with intellectual developmental disabilities, especially like autism, that's something that we crave is normalcy ... or being accepted, so that's the biggest thing outside sports that was taken away from us," said Barrett.

John Ficker, the executive director of Adult Family Home Council, said adult family homes have been largely forgotten in the vaccine rollout.

"I feel that just simply because of the size of our homes, we have intentionally been deprioritized, and we find that offensive," Ficker said. 

Ficker said just about one-third of the homes in the state were able to successfully sign up for the federal vaccination program after weeks of confusion over whether they even qualified. 

In the home where Barrett lives, getting vaccines six weeks after first qualifying is still length ahead of most homes, where CVS and Walgreens have them scheduled into February and March.

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"Then to have those calls that say things like, you know, assisted living and skilled nursing need to go first. It shows that the whole system was designed to support the large corporate-owned facilities over these families that have opened up their homes and agreed to be licensed as adult family home operators," said Ficker.

For homes that couldn’t get on the schedule at all, some municipalities like Seattle have taken vaccinating adult family homes into their own hands with mobile vans.

Ficker recognizes that getting to all of the homes in the state is a logistical challenge, but he said because of the frailty of the majority of residents, on-site clinics are necessary.

In a letter to Governor Jay Inslee, Ficker called on him to "allocate specific staff time to focus on a proactive outreach effort" while roughly 15,000 residents and caregivers still lack access to the vaccine. 

"They are not forgotten and are one of the highest priorities for our office right now," the governor’s press secretary told Q13 News. "As noted, they are part of the 1a group, and we’re working to get vaccines to them as quickly as possible."

In a response to a Q13 News inquiry, the Washington State Department of Health says many counties have already supplied vaccines to adult family homes.

For those still behind the trend, DOH says they'll have their first doses by February 22nd.