Homeless Health Care Organization Is Among Arizona's First COVID-19 Vaccinators

By Katherine Davis-Young
Published: Wednesday, January 27, 2021 - 5:13pm
Updated: Thursday, January 28, 2021 - 9:11am

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Circle the City quarantine
Circle the City
Circle the City medical staff provide care to Joyce, a patient who tested positive for COVID-19 at the Phoenix Inn, a hotel being used for patients needing a place to quarantine.

Until recently, Clayton Foster, 67, was living out of his car. But when his health problems became severe, he moved into the downtown Phoenix Medical Respite Center run by Circle the City, a nonprofit that provides a variety of health care services to Arizonans facing homelessness. Foster knows being homeless, having underlying health issues and living in a congregate setting makes him vulnerable to COVID-19.

"The people that are homeless that don't have any health insurance or see a doctor on a regular basis — they're the ones that are really going to be high-risk," Foster said in a video provided by Circle the City. "I try to keep myself clean, but it’s hard to do, to keep everything sanitary and clean as you can.”

Circle the City
Clayton Foster was the first Circle the City patient to receive a vaccine.

His risk will soon be reduced. This week, Foster was the first Circle the City patient to receive a coronavirus vaccine.

Vaccines remain in limited supply nationwide. In Arizona, there are still only a few dozen places administering shots. Most of those are mass vaccination drive-through sites or pharmacies. As a homeless health care nonprofit, Circle the City is unique on the list of the first vaccinators in Maricopa County.

Dr. Christopher Pexton, the organization's downtown medical director, said the populations Circle the City serves simply can't access the stadium events or other opportunities for vaccinations currently available in Maricopa County.

"From lack of transport, lack of awareness, or it just being more difficult for someone who has limitations in personal literacy or health literacy, it’s a lot harder for them to be able to go to a typical walk-up health-care setting of any kind," Pexton said.

Circle the City received its first shipment of vaccines from the state in mid-January. The state allocated 200 doses to the organization, and Circle the City plans to continue to apply for more doses. In keeping with CDC recommendations, Circle the City first vaccinated its medical personnel, now it's moving on to older, high-risk clientele. Pexton said the organization will have the capacity to give a few dozen doses a day.

Circle the City Mobile Medical Outreach
Circle the City
Circle the City's Mobile Medical Outreach unit provides services to clients in Mesa.

Arizona's COVID-19 outbreak has been among the worst in the nation this winter. Over the past few weeks, Circle the City's COVID-19 quarantine center at a hotel rented by the county has often been at capacity, housing as many as 100 COVID-positive patients at a time. Pexton said over the past few months, many of his homeless patients have avoided seeking medical care or other services out of fear of the virus.

"There was just this sense of futility that 'I'm going to get it,'" Pexton said. "There were a lot of really scared people that, because of their health conditions and age, just felt helpless to be able to protect themselves."

Pexton said he hopes vaccines will start to bring much needed relief.

→ Q&AZ: What You Need To Know About Getting The Coronavirus Vaccine In Arizona