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Long-distance vaccination

Kids in Paramus and Westfield help Florida mom sign up for shots

Robert Chananie of Paramus, left, and Brad Chananie of Westfield stand with their mother, Frances Chananie of West Palm Beach.
Robert Chananie of Paramus, left, and Brad Chananie of Westfield stand with their mother, Frances Chananie of West Palm Beach.

Everyone knows how difficult it has been for seniors to get a covid-19 vaccination appointment unless they are in residential facilities, at least until very recently.

That’s true not just in New Jersey and New York, but nationwide.

Here is one family’s story of how success finally happened. Maybe there’s hope for everyone!

Frances Chananie, who lived in Englewood Cliffs for 30 years, is 94 now. She lives alone in West Palm Beach, Florida. Her son Robert and his wife, Beth, live in Paramus. Her son Brad and his wife, Leslie, live in Westfield. Her sister lives in Ossining and her niece lives in Danbury, Connecticut. None of her five grown grandchildren lives nearby either.

But they all tried to help Frances find a way to be inoculated.

“The whole family has desperately been trying to get Frances a vaccine,” said Beth Chananie, the community editor of the Jewish Standard and the New Jersey Jewish News. “Florida is worse than New Jersey. Her doctor didn’t receive any vaccines. So we have all collectively been networking to find information.”

When Beth and Robert Chananie’s son Joshua was in college, he had a roommate, Eric Forti, who later moved to Florida. Although Josh and Eric no longer were in touch, Eric saw Beth’s post and offered to pick Frances up and drive her an hour and a half to Miami Hard Rock Stadium. Cars typically line up there for up to three hours, waiting for covid shots.

Fortunately, the Chananies did not have to accept his kind offer.

Her Connecticut niece, Kim Gronwoldt, told Beth about a Facebook group, “South Florida Covid-19 Vaccination Info,” set up specifically to help West Palm Beach County residents share information related to covid vaccines. Beth requested and received membership, which gave her access to up-to-the-minute information.

On Monday, January 18, a group member posted that the Publix supermarket chain was rumored to be opening vaccine registration online the following Thursday at 6 a.m.

That was confirmed to Brad Chananie by one of his mother’s friends.

But Frances Chananie has no computer, tablet, or even smartphone. So Brad and Beth — the two early birds of the Chananie couples — made sure to be on their devices before the sun rose that Thursday morning. Brad would handle the actual registration, while Beth would keep him updated via posts on the Facebook page.

“I was his virtual support, texting with him and taking screenshots of what people were writing on the Facebook group as they tried to get on the Publix site,” Beth reported. “I let him know that he had to have his mother’s Medicare number.

“I just wanted him to hang in there and know he wasn’t alone.”

Brad logged on early, navigated to the application and filled it out, identified the Publix closest to his mom’s residence, and then sat in a queue — virtually sat, that is, in a virtual queue — waiting.

“Every 45 seconds to a minute the site updated itself,” Brad said. “The problem is that they were doing multiple counties at the same time, and there were way more people trying to sign up than there were appointments available.”

According to news reports, more than 300,000 Floridians attempted to sign up for an appointment at Publix supermarkets that week. Only 49,000 were successful.

About 50 minutes after Brad logged on, he was cued to select a Publix location from about a dozen in Palm Beach County and fill out a form. An appointment was available for that day. But when he finished the form and clicked, that appointment had vanished.

“This went on five different times, and every time it happened, I had to fill out a form again, but at least it kept my place in the queue,” Brad said.

“I finally chose a different location and that one had three appointments available on Friday. I chose one, and suddenly it said, ‘You have been scheduled for an appointment.’ It also scheduled the second appointment for four weeks later.”

In all, the process had taken an hour and 15 minutes.

“I tried not to let myself get too crazy,” Brad said. “The feeling of relief was the most important thing.”

Brad’s work wasn’t quite done once the appointment was made. Although his mother drives, he did not want her to go alone to get the vaccine. He arranged with one of his mother’s neighbors to accompany her.

Frances Chananie said the vaccination went very smoothly at Publix on Friday the 22nd. Although she had to cancel lunch plans the next day because she felt dizzy and nauseous, by Sunday mid-morning she was feeling fine.

“I have wonderful children, who always help me out,” she said. “I don’t have email or a computer so I couldn’t do it on my own, and they were more than generous to help. When you’re a little older, that’s the way to go.”

The great-grandmother of five noted that she felt especially grateful because she knows of other seniors in her area who similarly don’t have the necessary equipment or know-how to make an appointment online.

The Chananie family teamwork even merited a mention on the local news.

Beth had posted news of her brother-in-law’s success to the Facebook group, thanking members for their support and encouraging them to hang in there and keep trying.

“Many people commented and thanked me,” Beth said. “And the next thing I knew, I had a message from a reporter in Florida, asking if she could contact me about the experience.”

The message was from Danielle Waugh, an Emmy-award winning investigative reporter at CBS12 News in West Palm Beach.

“She was truly fascinated that all this was being done from northern New Jersey,” Beth said. “I turned her over to Brad, with his permission, and she called him and did a Zoom interview with him.”

Beth also has shared the Facebook page with some New Jersey families “who are all desperately trying to help relatives in Florida,” she said. “Frances is probably like thousands down there.”

Brad, who retired last April from a 43-year career in sportwear and children’s wear, is active locally. Among other activities, he is the founder and co-chairman of LifeLong Westfield, an advisory council to the mayor and town council started in March 2018 to help local seniors age in place.

Reaching the seniors by computer, phone, and even snail mail, the council organizes volunteers to help local elders, sends out newsletters, and runs educational programs — including about vaccines — that will help them remain in their own homes for as long as possible.

“If I can do this for the seniors here, then why not for my own mother?” Brad said. “It makes you feel good inside.”

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