As vaccine eligibility for Connecticut educators and child care providers stretches into its second week, some family-based day care providers worry they are being left behind without clear communication on how to schedule appointments.
Connecticut has opted to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine largely based on age, and as of March 1, was vaccinating residents at least 55 years old. But Gov. Ned Lamont created an one exception to the age-based eligibility plan for teachers and people who provide child care services.
Family child care providers, who run their own small businesses and care for children from their homes, represent a dispersed and more difficult population to reach than teachers, who can be contacted by school districts, or providers who work at large day care centers.
“The problem is, there’s no one to ask for help,” said Yelena Pasternak, a family day care provider in West Hartford. “We are always on our own.”
Pasternak paused occasionally during a Tuesday phone interview to address three “little munchkins,” who she was caring for under a business she has been operating for the past six years. COVID made the last year “crazy” for day care providers, she said.
In spite of the pandemic, family providers have done their best to continue providing services, she said. Pasternak was frustrated that she had received little guidance from the state on how to schedule an appointment to be vaccinated.
“There’s absolutely no one contacting us directly regarding family child care providers,” she said. “We’re still waiting, but there’s no one to tell us what we should be doing while we’re waiting. Should we register with VAMS? Which I did. Should I wait for my local health department? Which I called and they had no idea what I was referring to. My point is, we are licensed as well.”
Asked Monday how child care providers should go about scheduling vaccinations, Josh Geballe, state chief operating officer, directed providers to a list on the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood website.
“We know there’s thousands of child care providers out there and there may be some who are still trying to figure out how to get connected in,” Geballe said.
The list contains a town-by-town breakdown of which local agency is overseeing vaccines for child care providers. In many cases, the list refers providers to their local health district. In some cases, like Pasternak in West Hartford, vaccinations for family child care providers fall to UConn Health.
Office of Early Childhood Commissioner Beth Bye said the state has emailed providers directly and has been working with CSEA-SEIU, the union that organizes family child care providers to reach out to and communicate with its members about vaccination plans.
Bye said the state plans to ramp up communication efforts in the coming days. A pre-planned calling campaign designed to alert family child care providers about changes in regulations has been modified to include information about vaccinations, she said. The call campaign is set to begin Monday.
“It’s a big challenge. We’ve got almost 2,000 family child care providers, all single-person businesses, all working long hours and not all are as technologically connected as others,” Bye said.
Community health care centers will also begin emailing all family child care providers to provide them with an opportunity to make a vaccination appointment, she said. Bye said the state is committed to giving all providers the opportunity to get the shot before the end of the month.
“I’m really proud of our efforts to reach them all. I won’t be satisfied until we’re at 100%,” she said.