Person of the Week
Kim Megrath: A Shot’s That’s on Target
Phase 1b of the COVID vaccine rollout has posed challenges for many recipients, but in Chester, Kim Megrath and her team of volunteers are working to ensure everyone eligible is aware of their options. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Kim Megrath knows what the present moment’s biggest questions are, because she is helping find the answers. So here goes: Do you have an appointment for a shot yet? How did you manage to get one?
Kim and a group of volunteers are trying to make that appointment process, if not less time consuming, at least more understandable, for Chester residents. The group’s members have already contacted, either by telephone or post card (if they didn’t have a number or the number didn’t work), residents in Chester who are 75 or older to ensure they had the information to navigate the registration process.
Now with new guidelines extending eligibility for vaccinations to those in the 65 to 74 age group, Kim and the volunteers will contact all of those Chester residents. To ensure a sense of continuity, Kim is making certain that the same volunteer who called for people over 75 will call the household if there is a person now eligible for the vaccine in the 65 to 74 age category.
The volunteers don’t go to peoples’ houses but explain by telephone all the options involved and how to navigate the system. Kim has prepared a script that the callers use to make sure all questions are covered.
For those without computers or who would prefer, the state has established a toll-free telephone number to register for vaccinations, 877-918-2224. Kim advises not count on a quick call back from messages left at the number.
“It was woefully understaffed at the beginning,” she says.
She adds that the telephone bank has since hired many more workers, but that replies can still be far from instant.
“It uniquely made sense for someone like me to do this. I’ve built teams and systems for health and social services,” Kim explains.
She has a doctorate in special education/early intervention from the University of Oregon as well as a master of business administration degree from the University of Colorado and a bachelor’s degree from New York University.
Kim notes it’s important to know such basic fact, including what kind of vaccine a person gets in the first round, Moderna or Pfizer, because the second shot must be of the same type. What’s more, the time between shots can vary. For Pfizer, it’s three weeks; for Moderna, it’s four.
People need to consider how far they will travel to get an appointment for a shot and whether or not they need to make an appointment for a second shot themselves. Some facilities schedule a second appointment at the time of the first shot, but in some instances, people need to schedule the second shot themselves.
Kim emphasizes that the telephone-call project is a group effort.
“I want to be considered the conductor of a team of dedicated volunteers who are trying to break down barriers to accessing the COVID-19 vaccine,” she notes. “Please give a shout out to the team of volunteers that have been the real force behind the COVID-19 vaccination project.”
Many of the telephone volunteers come from the Social Services, Spirituality and Emotional Wellness Subcommittee that Kim facilitated as part of the Chester’s Long Term Recovery Task Force, whose mission was not simply to assess how COVID-19 had affected the community but how but to incorporate new ideas and programs for Chester into their vision for the future.
Recently, the work of Kim and the team she put together for the Long Term Recovery Task Force earned Chester a $4,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Middlesex County. The grant will be used for software that will better coordinate existing social services and also expand resident’s access to those services.
“It will build the capacity for social services in Chester,” she says.
KIm moved to Chester three years ago to be closer to her uncle, Donald Macdarmid, now her next-door neighbor. She had lived in Gainesville, Florida, where she was an associate research scientist specializing in early childhood studies at the University of Florida, Gainesville.
Crunching through the snow on a recent morning, Kim admitted she was glad to be back in New England. She grew up in Marion, a section of Southington. When she arrived in Chester, now retired, she had a question to ask herself: how to spend this new chapter of her life.
She made contacts in areas that reflected her professional career, reaching out to Allison Abramson at the Tri-Town Youth Services Bureau. She is now a member of the group’s Early Childhood Council. She is also a member of Chester’s Democratic Town Committee, and joined the hunger action team of Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Pantries.
Kim is as eager for the vaccine as any of the people she is helping sign up. She misses her two-year-old grandchild and the new grandchild she has not yet seen in person. The best she can do now is Zoom pizza nights with family.
As she was talking with a reporter recently, the doorbell rang and a completely unexpected bouquet of flowers arrived. It came from a Chester couple, both in their 90s, in gratitude for her help in signing up for the vaccine.