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Silence Equals Death: When It Comes to COVID-19 Vaccinations, LA Isn't Really Answering the Questions

CORONA POLITICS-While most companies claim they put customer service ahead of everything, those of us who spend hours trying to resolve issues with our banks, our health insurers, our telephone companies, know that's not true. 

In a story in the Harvard Business Review titled "Why Is Customer Service So Bad? Because It’s Profitable," marketing professors Anthony Dukes (USC) and Yi Zhu (University of Minnesota) explain that some companies make their customers jump through many hoops to curb the redress payments they would have to make to settle complaints. 

Duke and Zhu state that the average American spends, on average, 13 hours a year on the phone trying to resolve customer service problems.  Many just give up after the first call goes nowhere. 

"Research shows that companies with a large market share — think airlines, cable, and internet services — can get away with bad practices because customers have nowhere else to go," say Duke and Zhu. "This may help us understand why some of the most hated companies in America are so profitable." 

But it's not just corporate America that fails to provide customers the service they pay for. That's also an issue for government on the federal, state, and local levels. And that's never been more evident than during this COVID-19 pandemic as residents of Los Angeles County struggle to understand when and where they can receive a vaccination for the deadly virus. As of Jan. 20, the State of California ranks 45th among all states in a ranking of how many available COVID-19 vaccinations have been administered. In California, 41.15% of vaccinations have given.  By contrast, the percentage in West Virginia is 74.29. (Photo above: Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.)  

The State of California and Los Angeles County claim they are offering answers to our questions about getting a vaccination.  If you're looking for an answer to your vaccination question on the State of California's COVID-19 vaccine website (covid19.ca.gov) it refers you to the Los Angeles County Health Department's COVID-19 website (http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/acd/ncorona2019). There you will find a list of "phases and tiers" of those eligible for vaccinations. Healthcare workers, residents of nursing homes, homeless outreach workers and, ironically, morticians, are in the top three tiers of Phase 1A and thus immediately eligible for vaccinations.  Only on Tuesday did L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis issue an executive order declaring that those 65 and older qualify for a vaccination now, ending the contradiction with federal and state governments directives that already had authorized that group.  

The Public Health Department site refers you to VaccinateLACounty.com for answers to your COVID-19 vaccination questions.  But as of Wednesday, the site states: "VaccinateLACounty.com’s reservation system is part of a statewide system, which went down for several hours Tuesday afternoon. Thousands of individuals were nevertheless able to schedule vaccination appointments and at this time there are no more appointment slots available at County sites. While we are continuing to work with our state partners to improve the functionality of the website, we ask for the public’s patience as we build capacity and supply." 

The site does list providers of vaccinations, which include places such as Dodgers Stadium and Magic Mountain, where you can expect to sit in a long line of cars inching their way forward (if you are lucky enough to find an open vaccination time.)  But when one clicks to go to the more convenient clinics and pharmacies listed as providers, they aren't offering COVID-19 vaccinations at all or say there is no available appointment time this month or next.  If you don't have access to a computer to visit that useless site, you can make a phone call.  Call (833) 540-0473, where your call will not be answered. 

So, during this deadly pandemic, there are very important questions that our elected and appointed officials still aren’t really answering about getting a COVID-19 vaccination.  We want to know where we can get one, and when.  And how can someone in one of the Phase 1A groups really register for a vaccination at a local pharmacy or clinic?   

The Los Angeles Times has reported that a group of volunteers has come together to try to do the work we should have been expecting our government to do. With a core group of 110 people and about 100 volunteers, they launched VaccinateCA, https://www.vaccinateca.com/ a website that lists by county the places where one can get vaccinated and the availability of the vaccine at each location. Kudos to them for trying to do the work our government should already have been doing in December. However, of the 169 locations listed in LA County there are only two pharmacies at Ralph's grocery stores and two at Von's grocery stores that say they are providing vaccinations, and only to healthcare workers. The rest of the sites don't say they have a COVID-19 vaccine inventory or their vaccination service is listed as "not open to the public." 

While Los Angeles County stumbles its way through the vaccine process, other governments are way ahead of us.  Rather than telling citizens to prepare to join long lines of cars waiting to get into a football stadium to get a life-saving vaccination, Washington, D.C. has alerted its citizens that they can book an appointment online.  Online registration also is available in places as small as Polk County, Fla., and Schertz, Tex. 

In some ways the county's inability to share essential information is no surprise. As a journalist, I  have found that getting any voter data from the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk's office is a challenge, as is getting any response to any question from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. That is annoying.  But when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, Los Angeles County's response is not just annoying.  It is frightening. 

This all brings to mind the slogan "Silence Equals Death" that was inspired by Keith Haring's iconic AIDS poster. We're now approaching 14,000 COVID-19-related deaths in Los Angeles County. How many more deaths will it take for Los Angeles County to figure out how to really communicate with the citizens its elected and appointed officials are supposed to serve?

 

(Henry E. Scott is Co-Editor of CityWatch and former publisher of WEHOville and Gay Life LA.)

-cw