Many community clinics in Orange County worry the incoming switch in coronavirus vaccine registration systems could slow down their efforts to get shots into the arms of the county’s most impacted communities.
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When Blue Shield takes over the statewide virus distribution system, the state’s appointment website — My Turn — is slated to be used.
Orange County is currently using its own program, Othena, which was plagued by glitches and translation issues when it first rolled out in January.
Similar complaints have been made about My Turn.
“I would say, in a nutshell, it’s up in the air,” said Isabel Becerra, CEO of the Coalition of Orange County Community Health Centers.
Becerra is concerned the software switch is going to double up work for clinics and eat up staff time that otherwise could be used to vaccinate more of OC’s most vulnerable residents.
It’s the same reason the clinics don’t use Othena.
“It creates a double entry system. It’s a very inefficient way to register patients for the vaccine. Because the health centers, 100% of them, not just in OC, but throughout the state, intentionally have moved towards a certified electronic health record system. We want to be providing care in the most epxideniant and safe way,” Becerra said.
The community clinics have been using their own registration software and reporting the information to a state database because Othena would double-up the work, Becerra said.
She also said a vast majority of OC’s health clinics use programs that likely won’t be able to communicate with the state software.
“Now if we had to use Othena, we would have to manually enter that information twice in one day. Because Othena is not built for [electronic medical records] in the county. The same scenario plays with My Turn,” she said.
State officials haven’t said too much about the switch to My Turn.
California Department of Public Health spokesman, Darrel Ng, said the program “is designed to be a “front door” for the majority of vaccines in the state. We will work with providers receiving vaccines from the state allocation to access appointments via My Turn.”
Ng didn’t directly address questions about what happens if a county or clinic’s existing program doesn’t merge with My Turn.
“My Turn is a system run by the state. The state has been working to onboard counties and providers onto the system,” Ng said in an email last week.
In an email last week County health officer Dr. Clayton Chau said he’s not concerned about Orange County switching from Othena to My Turn.
It’s still unclear when the distribution switch will happen, but county supervisors are expected to discuss the Blue Shield contract at their meeting next Tuesday.
All vaccine providers — counties, health clinics, hospitals — are required to have a contract with the insurance giant in order to stay in the supply chain.
There’s also statewide concerns about the lack of state and federal funding for the community health clinics, who are stretched thin both vaccinating and testing residents for coronavirus — on top of regular health care for their patients.
The clinics operate in the hardest-hit communities and are designed to serve the underinsured and uninsured working class residents.
At a news briefing last Friday, Secretary of the state Health and Human Services Agency, Dr. Mark Ghaly, said officials are working to get money to the clinics.
“I know we have made some progress to make sure that funds arrive to support that work,” Ghaly said. “More and more of that’s going to be done through our efforts at the state.”
He also praised the efforts from clinics and community organizations, which have been critical in lowering positivity rates in the hard hit neighborhoods.
“They are really going to be part of the numerous heroes to get us through the pandemic,” Ghaly said.
Meanwhile, some clinics have seen an increase in new patients during the pandemic.
Vanessa Rodriguez, a nurse practitioner at the UC Irvine community health clinic in Anaheim, attributed the new patients to clinic staff being out in the community doing virus testing, educational outreach and vaccinations.
“It’s a great way to make these new relationships,” Rodriguez said in a Saturday phone interview. “Especially family medicine. You’re treating the kids, the mom, you’re treating the grandma.”
She said many people will get tested or vaccinated and medical staff starts asking general questions about their health, which oftentimes leads to people becoming a patient at the clinic.
“It’s been an interesting year of brand new patients,” Rodriguez said. “I think seeing all the new patients boosted my mood during the pandemic — being able to see my patients both in and out of the clinic. Because I live so close to the clinic, I see my patients at the grocery store or out doing laps.”
Virus hospitalizations have somewhat plateaued.
As of Monday, there were 233 people hospitalized, including 72 in intensive care units.
Deaths have been steadily increasing.
The virus has now killed 4,486 people, including 21 new deaths reported today.
That’s more than eight times the flu kills on a yearly average.
Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, including 543 annual flu deaths, according to state health data.
It’s also killed more than heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and strokes do on a yearly average, respectively.
The virus is now in the ballpark of average annual cancer deaths.
According to the state death statistics, cancer kills over 4,600 people, heart disease kills over 2,800, more than 1,400 die from Alzheimer’s disease and strokes kill over 1,300 people.
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:
Infections | Hospitalizations & Deaths | City-by-City Data
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio