211 lines tied up after MDHHS recommends calling for vaccine help

Michigan health director says to call 211 for vaccine appointments, but callers say it’s not working

Friday brought more confusion about how Michigander can get an appointment for a coronavirus vaccine.
Friday brought more confusion about how Michigander can get an appointment for a coronavirus vaccine.

LANSING, Mich. – Friday brought even more confusion for Michiganders attempting to schedule a coronavirus vaccination appointment -- particularly over the phone.

Elizabeth Hertel, the new director of the Michgan Department of Health and Human Services, recommended Friday morning that senior citizens call 211 to schedule an appointment. The Local 4 newsroom was then flooded with phone calls from residents who were unable to get through.

Feb. 5, 2021: Michigan coronavirus cases up to 566,630; Death toll now at 14,797

Michigan’s senior citizens are frustrated and many feel there is nowhere they can turn.

“We would recommend that they contact 211,” Hertel said Friday morning “And work with 211 to help facilitate either making an appointment or being able to make it onto a waiting list to make an appointment.”

When asked if 211 was up and running Friday morning, Hertel said that it was.

Original Story: Michigan health director says to call 211 for vaccine appointments, but callers say it’s not working

Multiple viewers said they called in and were unable to get through.

One viewer said 211 gave them a recorded message that 211 was not scheduling vaccinations and another said the phone rang for 25 minutes with no answer.

One caller said they waited 57 minutes before they could speak with someone, who said they were directed to call the Michigan COVID Hotline at 1-888-535-6136 next week and they will try to connect to a county official to schedule a vaccination.

Local 4 Defender Shawn Ley called 211 and was on hold for an hour before hanging up.

As the state uses the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) to decide where vaccines are shipped to, Macomb Township resident Lana Thomas showed Local 4 how she has tried to get through to the Macomb County Health Department.

Michigan senior residents have been struggling to receive their vaccines. People 60-years-old and older account for 24% of the confirmed cases in Michigan but are 90% of the confirmed deaths.

READ: Michigan coronavirus data: Tracking case count, cases by county, deaths, cases by age, tests

She said she has called every day using two phones at the same time.

Thomas said she made nearly 400 phone calls Tuesday alone and she has never been able to get through.

Macomb County executive Mark Hackel feels for Thomas and the thousands of seniors. He said when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer opened up vaccinations to multiple groups, that was a mistake.

“I feel bad,” Hackel said. “They are being left behind moving forward.”

READ: Michigan’s race to get everyone vaccinated leaves some senior citizens behind

When reached for comment, a representative with the health department gave Local 4 the following suggestions for Michiganders seeking to get their vaccinations.

  1. Michiganders who are able, please visit Michigan.gov/COVIDVaccine to find out what your local health department is offering for vaccinations and up to date information about vaccination in Michigan.
  2. If you are interested in general COVID information, call the hotline at 888-535-6136.
  3. Appointments are offered through local health departments and hospital systems at this time -- visit their website to make an appointment online or call the phone number provided.
  4. Call 211.

“Please have patience,” MDHHS Public Information Officer Lynn Sutfin said. “There is simply not enough vaccine to go around. Local health and health systems are working very hard to vaccinate 70% of Michiganders age 16 and older as quickly as possible.”

READ: Michigan COVID-19 vaccinations: How to find appointments, info on phases

About the Authors:

Shawn Ley is an Emmy-Award winning reporter. In more than 20 years covering stories in television news, Shawn’s reporting has taken him from war-torn eastern Europe, to reporting from an F-16 fighter jet and now to the fast and furious breaking news of Detroit.

Dane is a producer and media enthusiast. He previously worked freelance video production and writing jobs in Michigan, Georgia and Massachusetts. Dane graduated from the Specs Howard School of Media Arts.