Need a COVID-19 vaccine? Here's how homeowners associations and other groups are filling the gap in Collier County

Liz Freeman
Naples Daily News

Privately organized clinics have become a path toward speedy vaccination in Collier County, an increasing trend that's happening with the public health department's blessing. 

The growing list of homeowners associations and faith-based groups that are holding these clinics can start serving people as young as 60 starting Monday. 

“We have close to two dozen partners including EMS, the municipalities, faith-based groups and HOAs,” said Kristine Hollingsworth, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health in Collier County.

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Representatives of several of the homeowners associations said they learned about the opportunity after Hollingsworth made presentations at community meetings.

Hollingsworth said she was asked by Commissioner Andy Solis to attend the Collier County President's Council meeting of homeowner association representatives, and Commissioner Penny Taylor asked her to attend one of the commissioner's recent town hall meetings.

Hollingsworth added that she will be speaking at Commissioner Burt Saunders' town hall later this month.

Hollingsworth didn’t have a tally of how many doses have been earmarked each week for residential communities and other groups, but she said it's about a quarter to a third of the 3,500 doses sent every week to the health department.

Outcry over appointments getting snatched up within minutes as residents try to get vaccinations through the health department’s website and through Publix created momentum for homeowners associations to take charge and handle their own registrations for their residents who meet the age eligibility.

In Lee County, it's not clear if the state Department of Health is readily supporting homeowners associations, churches and other private groups that want to get their residents and members vaccinated.

A public records request to the Lee health department has been forwarded to state officials in Tallahassee, according to local health spokeswoman Tammy Yzaguirre, who said Lee's health department was focusing its "limited supply" of vaccine at its own clinic near Southwest Florida International Airport.

Who's getting the vaccines 

Half a dozen homeowners associations and cooperatives in Collier have gotten hundreds of their residents vaccinated at first-dose clinics, or will soon, through arrangements each has made with the Collier health department.

Barb Johnson, Naples volunteer and Landmark resident, helped usher people to a table to get their shot.  Landmark Naples, a North Naples manufacturing community, hosted a vaccine clinic for nearly 400 seniors 65-plus. North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District administered the shots. Naples, Florida, March 6, 2021.

The communities include Moon Lake, Tiburon Estates, Glades Golf & Country Club, Longshore Lake, Naples Cay and Enchanting Acres Mobile Home Park, Hollingsworth said.

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Faith-based organizations that are registering their members include Temple Shalom, Celebration Community Church and the Islamic Center of Naples, Hollingsworth said.

"We can transfer the vaccine pretty quickly,” she said, referring to partner agencies like North Collier Fire and EMS, which are licensed by the state to administer the shots. “It always depends on how much vaccine we have.”

At media briefings last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida is expecting its vaccine supply to increase substantially, in part due to delivery of 175,000 doses of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The state’s weekly allocation of virus has gone from 478,000 doses to 645,000 doses. Nearly 4 million people have been vaccinated statewide, of which 2.1 million have completed the two-shot series.

As of Friday, 95,740 residents in Collier had received vaccine, of which 54,861 got both doses, according to state data.

In Lee County, 148,275 people have been vaccinated, with 80,529 receiving both doses.

North Collier Fire Control & Rescue District, which has vaccinated 1,200 residents of Pelican Bay since Feb. 26, is preparing to immunize hundreds from other residential communities, North Collier spokeswoman Lori Freiburg said.

Pelican Bay is helping to arrange vaccinations for residents of Naples Park, the Wilderness Country Club, Calusa Bay, Pelican Marsh and Mediterra, with the Pelican Bay community center as the host site, Freiburg said.

Deputy Chief Jorge Aguilera   North Collier Fire Control & Rescue District

North Collier fire requires that a residential community or private group handle the registration of eligible individuals for vaccine and appointment scheduling, according to deputy chief Jorge Aguilera.

North Collier fire has 100 paramedics who can provide the shots and another 100 emergency medical technicians who can administer them but cannot draw a dose from a vial, Aguilera said. That’s based on an emergency rule adopted by the state in February.

All private groups can continue their vaccination efforts for people who are 60 and older starting Monday, Hollingsworth said.

North Collier Fire will move to the lower age threshold for vaccinations organized by homeowners associations or other private groups, Freiburg said.

How homeowners groups get shots

One approach for a homeowners association to help residents get vaccinated involves doing the registration on the department’s website at Eventbrite for appointments.

The individual in charge for the association is given a special link to the Eventbrite website to input the names, based on the vaccine doses earmarked for the group, Hollingsworth said.

From there, the community is given a set appointment time during the health department’s regular vaccine site at North Collier Regional Park. The residents are responsible for showing up to get their shot.

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Donna Smith, board president of Longshore Lake in North Naples, said she learned of the opportunity when Hollingsworth addressed the Collier County President’s Council several weeks ago. Collier County Commissioner Solis was present, she said.

The council is a non-political organization of leaders from 29 property owners’ associations, according to a 2016 rooster on the group’s website.

Smith said Longshore Lake, which has 566 single-family homes, went through the approval steps and received a special link to the Eventbrite website for 158 residents 65 and older. They received their first doses Wednesday at the North Collier park, she said.

“We are so very grateful we had the opportunity,” Smith said. “I feel very fortunate, and I also feel there a lot of homeowners associations in the queue.”

The health department deserves credit for offering communities the chance to handle the registration, she said, adding that she will wait before pursuing another round for her residents aged 60 and older.

“There are so many homeowners associations that would like to be in line,” Smith said. “We all have to take our turn.”

Tina Gurtner, property manager for KW Property Management and Consultants at Tiburon Estates in North Naples, secured 100 doses for residents 65 and older. They were scheduled Friday to get their vaccines at the North Collier park.

Tiburon Estates has a total of 541 residences among nine associations that are a mix of single-family homes and condominiums.

Many residents received their vaccine elsewhere or were not able to come to Naples this winter from homes in Canada or Europe because of the COVID-19 travel restrictions, she said.

Gurtner handled the registration of the 100 residents on the health department’s site at Eventbrite.

“It wasn’t easy, but we got it done. It was so worth it,” she said. “Everybody is very happy. I have plenty of residents in their 80s, and they were struggling with Publix. I can honestly say they were overjoyed.”

Debbie Straight is the recent past president of Enchanting Acres cooperative who took charge of registering her residents 65 and older. It’s a 55-and-older mobile home community in East Naples with 169 mobile homes with roughly 300 residents.

Straight said she learned how she could help her residents get vaccinated after Hollingsworth gave a presentation at a recent town hall meeting hosted by Collier County Commissioner Taylor.

Straight said she has 60 or more people ready for their first doses Monday at the North Collier park.

“The people in this park are ecstatic,” she said. “They are so happy.”

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At Temple Shalom in North Naples, Deborah Fidel, the executive director, said she jumped at the opportunity to serve the congregation.

She and her staff first asked members 80 and older who wanted the shot, then moved on to the 65- to 79-year-old members. About 80 to 100 people have received doses.

Fidel said she took a cautious approach because of high demand for the vaccine. She made sure congregation members didn’t have appointments elsewhere or would not miss their appointment at the North Collier park.

The congregation members are grateful the arrangements were taken care for them, especially the older ones, she said.

“They are over moon they are so relieved,” she said. “This is a no-brainer. We are taking the administrative burden off the Department of Health.”

North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District held a COVID-19 vaccination site, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, at the Pelican Bay Community Center in Naples.

How North Collier Fire Control is helping

Another option is for a residential community to host a vaccine clinic, similar to what Pelican Bay in North Naples is doing using its community center.

Paramedics with the North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District administer the shots at Pelican Bay, which is located in the fire district's service area.

Pelican Bay has held thee vaccination clinics for 400 residents at each session for a total of 1,200 people, said Freiburg, North Collier Fire spokeswoman.

The number of doses will increase to 600 each week starting March 17, Freiburg said.

Some of the 600 doses will be for residents of other communities who will come to the Pelican Bay community center that is hosting the vaccine clinics.

Pelican Bay has coordinated registration efforts for residents of Naples Park, Wilderness and Calusa Bay to get immunized, she said.

“A number of residents from these three communities began moving through the Pelican Bay clinic (Wednesday),” she said. “This is in addition to the Pelican Bay residents that still continue to move through. Additionally, Pelican Bay is in planning discussions with Pelican Marsh and Mediterra.”

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A website is being developed for vaccine sign-ups for people who live in the other communities, said Jim Hoppensteadt, president and chief operating officer of the Pelican Bay Foundation. The website may be ready this week.

Separately, North Collier Fire was scheduled to conduct a vaccination clinic Friday at the Waterways of Naples for 175 people, she said. 

It also vaccinated nearly 400 residents at Landmark Naples, a manufactured home community in North Naples with 459 units.

The fire district is in early discussions with several other groups who are not affiliated with any residential community.