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'As if I was speaking to my own parents': Duke Health worker helps seniors find shots

Posted January 22, 2021 6:21 p.m. EST

— Trying to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot can be a frustrating process. Benita Baines understands that better than many.

Baines works for Duke Health's COVID-19 vaccine appointments hotline. Every day, working from home, she does her best to find openings among eight locations for people who want the shot.

Most of her callers are senior citizens who've been isolated for months as the pandemic swirls around them.

"Just as soon as we sign on to the phones, patients are ready to go and get those vaccines right away,” Baines said. "Some people have a preference of location, and others just don’t care where – they just want it as soon as they can get it, first available."

Baines knows they're often frustrated by long hold times and busy signals. She also understands how important it is to those who hold on and get through.

"My father is 92, and my mother is 85," she said, "and so that that touches me, to be able to talk to that age group and help them in some way."

"I’ve had several of them in that age group – in their 90s, and a few that were 100 – say, 'Thank you so much. You saved my life,'" Baines continued. "That is the ultimate compliment that you could receive from someone.”

Sometimes, though, Baines can't offer them an appointment yet. There just isn't enough vaccine available yet for everyone. She offers to add them to Duke's waitlist, and she says most people are fine with that. But it's still the toughest part of what she does.

"It pulls at your heartstrings", Baines said. "We can hear the disappointment in their voices."

Baines's own parents aren't sure yet about getting the vaccine right away. She says some of her callers also have concerns. They often want to know which vaccine they'll get and what side effects they might experience.

She does her best to answer those questions every time.

"I approach every phone call as if I was speaking to my own parents,“ Baines said. “I know that I’m helping them get the vaccine which could potentially save their lives, and I want to keep doing that.”

For those left waiting for a shot, Baines recommends patience and persistence. She says leaving the phone on speakerphone and relaxing while you wait can help.

"If you continue to call and continue to search it out, you will find" a shot, she said. "I’m a witness. I see every day where people have called previously and then they give us a call back in and something has opened up.”

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