North Bay parents speak out for disabled son who’s been ‘skipped over’ in vaccine rollout
NORTH BAY -- No strangers to advocating on their son's behalf, Cathy Sullivan-Richardson and Greg Richardson of North Bay say their disabled son has been "skipped over" when it comes to the province's vaccine rollout plans.
“We just decided that we had to be patient and had to wait,” said Richardson, after the North Bay Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) and the North Bay Parry Sound Health Unit said Tyler’s name had been added to a vaccination list for adults receiving chronic home healthcare.
“But as the provincial rollout began full bore I guess in March, we got a little bit concerned because we saw that the age groups being vaccinated were well into Phase 2," he said. "So in our opinion, Tyler’s demographic has been skipped over. They have been ignored.”
Tyler, 22, is a recent graduate. He enjoys sleeping in every day and his mom says, “if he could tell you, he’d say he loves this idea of this slower life, leisure living that he’s been doing.” However, keeping him safe and healthy is top of mind.
“When I was initially talking about Tyler, I always like to keep things positive and funny. I mean, bottom line is he has a chronic lung disease,” said Sullivan-Richardson. “He is incredibly at risk. So we want to make sure that any of his exposures, we’re trying to protect him as best as we can.”
On April 4, Richardson tweeted a picture of the family asking the province “how people of all ages are getting vaccinated around the province and the disabled are being ignored.”
The family said communication has been few and far between.
“We are not trying to get Tyler on top of anybody else vaccinated, we don’t begrudge anyone with their vaccination," Sullivan-Richardson said. "But we just want something that we can say to Tyler, ‘listen dude, you’re going to get vaccinated in three weeks, four weeks, next week.’”
Richardson said since January they have been “cautiously optimistic” that a vaccine was in Tyler’s future. However, as more time passes, the frustration is growing.
“In my second phone call to the health unit, when I did explain to them that both Cathy and I are teachers and we’re exposed on a daily basis and returning home to a very high-risk person it’s … it’s frightening,” he said.
Did not sit well
“It bothers you on a daily basis that the explanation I was given was, ‘Well, Tyler’s a person that doesn’t (leave) the house very much and that you’re a teacher and you wear a mask so you’re safe and there’s social distancing going on.’ I’m going to leave that one because that is a completely different story altogether, but that did not sit well with me.”
During a media conference last week, Andrea McLellan from the health unit said that planning is underway.
“We are in the process of working with the LHIN and community healthcare providers to identify clients who meet that criteria and plan clinics for them,” McLellan said.
“As far as those with chronic medical conditions, that planning is still happening at the provincial level and we will follow the direction from the province.”
Although Tyler is sticking closer to home right now, six healthcare and private workers come into the house to help with care.
“We need to recognize how busy our house is and the amount of exposure that Tyler gets,” said Sullivan-Richardson.
Right now, the family is just looking for some communication and hopefully a date so they can finally tell Tyler when he will be getting vaccinated.
“This is a kid who’s been to Florida and PEI and Boston and Yankee Stadium, so when he’s healthy enough we bring him places, so we have to do that safely,” said Sullivan-Richardson.
Not the only ones left out
“I’d really like to not have a stomach ache every day thinking about what this means for our family.”
The Richardson family is not the only one feeling left in the dark when it comes to vaccine rollout. The PADDLE Program in North Bay, a disability services and support organization, said a lot of clients have questions.
“I don’t think they’re asking for miracles,” said executive director Megan Johnson. “I think they’re asking for information, they’re asking for communication so that they can tolerate the uncertainty.”
Johnson said she doesn’t know of one person with a disability at the organization who has received a vaccine.
“Families are feeling very skipped over, individuals are feeling very skipped over," she said. "In my feeling, I think that anytime we make healthcare policy, any time we are looking at making decisions that concern vulnerable individuals, we need to look at it through an equity lens. They need to be looked at through an equity lens. We are not all in the same boat here.”
Officials need to realize the trauma families endure, living in fear that their loved one may get sick.
“We have families living in fear that are essential workers, people going to schools to teach, people going to grocery stores that are worried about coming home and infecting and killing their child this is not OK," Johnson said. "It is not OK!”
She adds that on a local level the health unit and the LHIN are doing a good job communicating when they have the answers, however, even they don’t have all the answers right now.