As everyone gets ready for the annual flu and pneumonia season, over 4,000 Virgin Islanders can rest easier having participated in this year’s CareForce senior immunization project held during the week of October 26th. Adding an extra measure of health care protection, and new to this event, was the simultaneous distribution of H1N1 immunizations to the nationally identified high risk groups that include children, young adults and persons up to age 64 who suffer from chronic illnesses like asthma, diabetes or certain heart and lung problems.
CareForce’s lead agency the Virgin Islands Medical Institute partners with AARP VI, the VI National Guard, United Health Group, HOVENSA, the V.I. Health Department, the University of the Virgin Islands nursing division’s licensed practical nursing programs from St. Croix and St. Thomas, Clinical Laboratory on St. Croix and Cranston Dottin Lab on St. Thomas to carry out the event. The Office of the Delegate to Congress also provided volunteers to perform glaucoma screening.
Since the inception of CareForce, AARP volunteers have played a major role in the event. Originally, AARP volunteers registered participants, others with medical expertise provided some of the screening services, many helped with traffic control and yet others discharged people and input data into the computer system for future use.
Today, like most things, the event has become computerized and many tasks done by volunteers are now achieved electronically. But, the AARP volunteer still serves as the volunteer backbone for the event with many still serving in key positions that keep the event moving smoothly.
This year, over 80 AARP volunteers on the three islands gave of their time and talent to help CareForce participants through the maze of screening and immunization stations. Among the volunteers were a national AARP Board member, members of the AARP VI Executive Council and a representative from AARP’s Washington, D.C. office.
The recent, national H1N1 scare coupled with the opportunity to receive free H1N1 immunizations drove large numbers of Virgin Islanders who traditionally don’t come to CareForce to this year’s event. Normally, CareForce is aimed specifically at seniors and is held on each of the larger Virgin Islands for two days and on St. John for one day. Over the years the event has averaged a total participation rate of about 4,500 at the five (5) sites. As a result of this year’s huge surge in public participation, CareForce ran out of vaccines after the first day on St. Thomas and was unable to offer services on the second day. Had CareForce been open on the last day, the participation rate would have reached an all-time high, far exceeding its current participant peak.
In 2001 CareForce began as a project primarily aimed at raising the immunization level of VI seniors. Various screening services, such as taking blood pressures and providing eye, foot and dental exams were added to the project along the way as a means of identifying at-risk individuals in need of additional medical intervention.
Over the past eight years CareForce has grown significantly. Its popularity among all age groups has grown tremendously and in a few cases has been demonstrated to be the only form of health care some people receive all year long.
The array of services provided has also been expanded to include diabetic screenings as well as referrals to in depth training programs that empower people to take an active role in the management of their own health care.