STUCK. That is how many Granite State Independent Living (GSIL) consumers describe how they feel during the pandemic. Unlike many of us who may feel existentially stuck, many GSIL consumers are literally stuck at home due to increased risk of adverse outcomes from COVID-19 and/or being homebound as a result of age or disability.

GSIL consumers manage multiple physical and medical challenges daily in the best of times. And as we can all likely attest, these are not the best of times.

GSIL supports thousands of individuals across New Hampshire. Our services range from in-home disability supports, education and employment assistance. Since 1980, we have worked to advance the interests of people with disabilities, enabling them to live full and independent lives in the community.

GSIL was pleased to learn of efforts underway to bring vaccines to home-bound Granite Staters, many who are also GSIL consumers. We are grateful to Governor Chris Sununu and HHS Commissioner Lori Shibinette for their responsive leadership in reducing barriers to vaccinating the most vulnerable in our community. Further, the creativity and attention to equity from the Division of Public Health Services by Kirsten Durzy shows great commitment despite strong headwinds. The guidance and aid from State Epidemiologist Dr. Ben Chan and Dr. Elizabeth Daly, Chief of the Bureau of Infectious Disease Control underscores that it takes a team to respond to a wide-ranging public health threat. It’s hard to put into words the relief for GSIL consumers and employees knowing that they are “on the radar” and that unique solutions to their vaccine barriers are receiving special attention. This allows consumers to start to feel unstuck.

Recently, some other voices within the disability community raised concerns and complaints about a lack of access to vaccines. They complained that members of this vulnerable population are being ignored, isolated and left behind. Seeing that description alarmed us and we immediately reached out to consumers and their attendant care employees to see if that was their experience as well. We connected with many individuals served by or employed by GSIL and found it was not their experience. We felt it important to share this feedback publicly.

Our staff have heard back from a number of consumers that they have already received both vaccine doses and were able to get them with a minimum amount of challenge. Others are in line for their second shot and have a specific date. Anecdotally, there was one individual who had trouble getting registered, but GSIL made a call on their behalf and it was resolved within a day. We have few complaints about this process.

While we acknowledge there were bumps in the early rollout, we have not found that they disproportionately impacted GSIL consumers. We also respect that this is extremely challenging with many moving parts. We cannot discount the experience of others, but it is safe to say that people with disabilities are not a monolith and experiences can vary. We stand ready to problem solve for anyone having difficulty accessing their vaccine. The fact that the state’s leaders in responding to the pandemic have answered any and all of our calls for help, assistance and guidance should be noted. Challenges of this magnitude mean problems will arise. What’s important is the response to those problems.

This is hard. GSIL consumers and staff KNOW what hard is. But we also recognize the need to stop and occasionally say thank you and praise hard work and effort even if the outcome is excellence not perfection or simply a commitment to continuous improvement. Our organization seeks to be a part of solutions to the challenges that affect the disabled community both during the pandemic and beyond.

The pandemic has tested us all. From that challenge will come deep wells of resilience, something GSIL consumers know something about. They overcome more daily than many of us will ever have to manage. And while meeting their unique needs for access to vaccines requires creativity, we believe state leadership is doing the best it can and for that, we want to say thank you.

Deborah Ritcey is CEO of Granite State Independent Living. She lives in Derry.

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