Safety check of seniors' homes includes flu shot - East Valley Tribune: News

Safety check of seniors' homes includes flu shot

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Posted: Thursday, December 11, 2008 5:41 pm | Updated: 11:11 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Dennis Pearson doesn't usually have visitors, but this week he welcomed members of the Mesa Fire Department who made a house call to give him a flu shot.

Pearson, 67, who's partially paralyzed and lives alone in an east Mesa trailer park, said he battled influenza last year and doesn't want to live through that again.

So he signed up through the city's home-delivered meals program and that brought a firefighter, a nurse and a safety specialist to his home Wednesday to give him a dose of flu vaccine and a little conversation.

Public health officials are trying various ways to get more people vaccinated against the flu this season. For the first time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending shots for all children over 6 months old.

And Arizona officials are reminding people that it's not too late, even after the holidays, to get a flu shot. Arizona's season typically peaks in February.

Last season was brutal. Flu was widespread in Arizona, the highest CDC designation, for eight consecutive weeks through February and into March.

The county health department plans to run a flu shot clinic in January at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, as it did last year, using leftover vaccine donated to the immunization program from area doctors.

In Mesa, the fire crew also checked Pearson's home for fire and fall hazards and gathered information about him for the city's emergency database.

Blanca Barrera replaced the smoke detector in his bedroom - he'd taken the battery out months ago because it wouldn't stop beeping - and suggested that he put a nonskid surface under the bathroom rug.

Firefighter Donnie Colvin counseled the Army veteran about what to do in case of a medical emergency, power outage or natural disaster, and what types of information he should keep handy for paramedics if they were called to help him.

Pearson is among about 50 Mesa seniors getting house calls this month to receive flu shots and home safety checks.

It's a novel approach to get homebound seniors immunized, thanks to vaccine from the Maricopa County Health Department, as well as prevent falls and protect people from fire in their homes. Mesa fire personnel also vaccinate the seniors' families, caregivers and those most likely to spread the flu.

The program combines two successful public health tools - home-visiting programs and "ring" vaccination, inoculating those around the person most at risk of complications.

The flu vaccine offers less protection for seniors, who account for most of the 36,000 flu deaths each year. So their best defense is to not get the illness.

"This has been a concern for the county and for us. How do we reach some of these harder to reach people?" said nurse Pamela Bischoff, the city's emergency medical services coordinator.

Colvin said Pearson's situation was typical of the homes they're visiting: no family or friends to speak of, no cash on hand in case of emergency, no Internet access and little or no written information about their medical conditions, medications or health care providers.

Bischoff said starting with seniors on the home-delivered meals program kept the department from being inundated and enabled them to improve the health and safety for residents who often live alone, on fixed incomes and without computer access.

"A ground-level fall can be very serious for this population," she said. "If they fall and break a hip, that could be a death sentence for some of them."

Before the Mesa fire crew left Pearson's house Wednesday, they made sure he was OK.

"Do you have anybody who helps you in any way around here?" asked Barrera. "Would you like somebody?"

Pearson answered no to both questions. But he did seem to have enjoyed the company.

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