A receptionist at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center-Marble Falls told a recent caller frustrated with the COVID-19 registration process that patients with the facility were being given priority. After unsuccessfully trying to register her husband and sister through the website, Marble Falls resident Darlene Oostermeyer picked up the phone. It took some time on hold to get a person on the line.
“I spent all that time on the phone and get told that they are giving preference to patients of doctors out there,” she said. “That’s not right. That’s not how it’s supposed to be done.”
Oostermeyer was one of about 20 people who contacted DailyTrib.com to share their frustrations with the vaccination registration process in the Highland Lakes.
“I’m preregistered on 16 sites,” Linda O’Nan told DailyTrib.com in an email. “Other than initial confirmations, very little updates since.”
Tom Hauer also feels like vaccine providers in the area are favoring customers and patients. Online forms for both Atkins Pharmacy in Marble Falls and Baylor Scott & White ask those registering whether or not they are patients.
“I have tried to get scheduled for my husband and myself to get the vaccine and cannot get into the system,” wrote another Highland Lakes resident who has not replied to a request to use her name. She and her husband are 83 years old; he has diabetes.
“I called the number, but got no satisfaction from them either,” she said. “There must be a better way.”
Baylor Scott & White Health and Texas Department of State Health Services officials agree.
“Our hub in Burnet County is open to all Texans,” reads a Baylor Scott & White Health statement submitted to DailyTrib.com when asked for a response to readers’ concerns. “There is no requirement to visit a Baylor Scott & White provider before receiving the vaccine, and we are immunizing eligible Texans regardless of insurance status.”
Douglas Lovejoy, a press officer with the state health department, said providers can use some of the vaccine they receive to target specific groups, but they must have a community vaccination effort as well.
Oostermeyer, her husband, and her sister all fall under the 65 and older eligibility requirement of Phase 1B. Her husband and sister also have underlying health conditions. Currently, vaccines are going to people in Phases 1A and 1B; 1A is set aside for healthcare workers and first responders and 1B for ages 65 and older as well as ages 16 and older with serious medical conditions.
Baylor Scott & White officials said the registration system is fairly simple. Anyone wanting a vaccination at the hub must set up a MyBSWHealth account if they are not already patients and do not have an online account with the facility. The registration form asks those registering to provide information that determines eligibility for the inoculation. It is also supposed to ultimately lead to an appointment and documentation of immunizations.
Therein lies the problem: getting through the system to an appointment.
Hauer, who is a veteran eligible for the vaccine, gets most of his primary care through the Veterans Administration. He and his wife set up a MyBSWHealth account to register for vaccines at the Marble Falls hub.
“But once you create an account, if you didn’t have a patient record, they didn’t have anything to link you to,” he said.
Like Oostermeyer, Hauer learned of someone at the Marble Falls hub who might be able to assist him and his wife in setting up an appointment. He got through on Feb. 4, and they got a vaccination appointment for Feb. 6.
“We went over there Saturday, and it was well run,” Hauer said. “They did a great job and even scheduled us for our second shot.”
Hauer said they later received an email from Baylor Scott & White regarding a message through the MyBSWHealth portal, but when they logged on, their access to the message was denied, so they couldn’t read what it was.
The Hauers registered with a VSafe account with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The app follows up with regular emails after vaccinations are received.
Ed Scheinfeldt reported a similar experience.
“As we’ve heard in the media, there’s all kinds of confusion when it comes to getting a vaccine,” he said. “We also need to remember that there is a very limited supply of the vaccine and a lot of people want and need it.”
The hub in Marble Falls, which serves Burnet, Llano, Blanco, Mason, and San Saba counties, currently receives a weekly supply of 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. This particular vaccine must be kept at subzero temperatures, which limits its distribution to certain facilities, including Baylor Scott & White.
With no statewide registration system in place, individual providers must develop their own, often resulting in confusion and chaos on the user end.
Adding to the confusion, several people are being given appointments as far away as Dallas, including Scheinfeldt at first. People don’t have to reside in a hub’s region to be vaccinated there. A day or two after being told he had an appointment in Dallas, Baylor Scott & White contacted Scheinfeldt to schedule him in Marble Falls on Saturday, Feb. 6.
“Once we got there, it was a piece of cake,” he said. “Everything went smoothly, and the people were great.”
His wife was in the car with him but did not have an appointment. Scheinfeldt said a woman at the site took his wife’s information.
“Later that day, she got a call from Baylor Scott & White that they can get her in on Sunday,” he said. “So we got in the car on Sunday and went back.”
They also got dates and times for their second doses.
“Once we got into the process, it worked out fine,” Scheinfeldt said.
He understands the frustration others might be feeling as they attempt to set up appointments. He pointed out that going through the MyBSWHealth portal can change depending on what device you’re using.
“I was on my laptop, and it’s different than if you’re using a tablet or your phone,” Scheinfeldt said. “I’ve worked in the (information technology) world, and it takes time to build out a system like this that can handle all the volume it’s getting.”
It’s not perfect and needs work.
“From a user perspective, if the preregistration worked like it should, that would be a slam dunk,” he said. “The problem now is interfacing with the system and Baylor Scott & White. For all those who are older and maybe not comfortable with using something online or an app, it can be a big problem.”
While Baylor Scott & White has a phone number designated for assisting with the process, several people found the best thing was calling the Marble Falls hub and speaking with someone. That’s eventually how Hauer and his wife got their appointment.
“She can’t take a thousand calls a day,” Hauer said of the person who answered the phone. “She probably can’t take a hundred calls a day. The amount of vaccine is extremely limited, so that doesn’t help. There are plenty of rough edges.”
Including one receptionist who informed Oostermeyer that Baylor Scott & White patients were being given priority.
“We will have someone contact Mrs. Oostermeyer,” read the emailed statement from Baylor Scott & White Health on Feb. 8.
To create an account for the Marble Falls hub, text BETTER to 88408 or visit MyBSWHealth.com. The designated phone number, which is answered by a hotline, is 844-279-8222 (BSW-VACC).
For more COVID-19 stories, visit the DailyTrib.com coronavirus resources webpage.