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UT Physicians team provides COVID-19 vaccinations for patients with disabilities

Kelasha “Keke” Spencer was all smiles after receiving her COVID-19 vaccination. (Photo by Kim Kham/UT Physicians)
Kelasha “Keke” Spencer was all smiles after receiving her COVID-19 vaccination. (Photo by Kim Kham/UT Physicians)

Young adults with disabilities often need complex care because of extensive health care conditions that may limit communications, mobility, or require special medical equipment and transportation. This presents a tough challenge for physicians, caregivers, and families.

When the opportunity was available to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to patients with disabilities on Saturday, Mar. 6, UT Physicians care providers worked together to offer a convenient drive-thru service at the vaccine hub of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). UT Physicians is the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. Holly D. Volek-Smith, MD, internal medicine-pediatrics physician, who is an associate professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at McGovern Medical School, and Ebony W. Beaudoin, MD, pediatrician, who is an associate professor of pediatrics at McGovern Medical School were on-site to help with the effort.

“Some patients require medical transport and we wanted to limit their exposure due to their fragility,” said Volek-Smith. “This drive-thru effort was perfect and offered an enhanced level of care for our patients.”

Patients, caregivers, and their families arrived at a designated area that allowed for easy access and observation of patients who received the vaccine. Julie C. Eapen, MD, pediatrician, associate professor of pulmonary medicine with McGovern Medical School and Tomika S. Harris, DNP, from UT Physicians High Risk Children’s Clinic, were also there to observe and support the vaccination event.

Kimberly Seals, who has a daughter with cerebral palsy (CP), praised the effort and was thankful doctors were so involved with their care. Seal’s daughter, Aleisha Mouton, has been a patient of UT Physicians’ CHOSEN clinic for 22 years, since she was 3 years old. This clinic cares for patients with severe disabilities, as well as complex medical and social needs. They also have a multidisciplinary team that helps with case management services to help families access other services such as physical, occupational and speech therapy, transportation, home health services, etc. Mouton was born premature at 23 weeks and weighed only 1 pound, 7 ounces. In addition to CP, Mouton also has a seizure disorder, a ventriculoperitoneal shunt, is legally blind, and on a ventilator. 

“They make sure we have everything we need, from wheelchairs to ventilators,” said Seals. “I’ve never had a bad experience. They bring my stress level down from a ten to a one.”

Seals advises others to look for health care providers who are invested in the total managed care, not just someone who only treats a specific condition.

Children with disabilities, especially those with severe disabilities, may need dedicated home health services. April Raymond is thankful for the physicians with the CHOSEN clinic and compliments the experience her and her daughter, Kelasha “Keke” Spencer, have received. Spencer, who has CP and is developmentally delayed, has a dedicated home health nurse that visits daily to provide routine care. For these young adults, continuing their health care services with the pediatric team is essential for the continuity of complex care.

“It’s been really stressful at times so I am grateful for Dr. Volek-Smith and the care she and others have provided,” said Raymond.

Contributing to the effort, Healthcare Transformation Initiatives (HTI), a department within UT Physicians that focuses on increasing quality and access to primary and specialty care services such as this, worked alongside the CHOSEN clinic providers and the pediatric high risk teams to ensure logistical hurdles were addressed.

"I am thankful we were able to come together to develop this creative solution and service for our patients,” said Yen-Chi Le, PhD, director of innovation and evaluation at HTI. “This creates a truly wonderful experience and helps ensure UT Physicians’ commitment to health equity. We want COVID-19 vaccines to be accessible to the entire community.”

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