When multiple sources refer to someone as a “pillar of the community,” you can safely assume that person is a beloved and trusted figure.
That’s Frances “Fran” Gray – a longtime Neptune resident and business owner. Fran is respected throughout the community – she organized scholarship programs and coat drives through her church, volunteered at the food pantry, and participated in the Neptune Lion’s Club. When prom season rolled around, Fran would always offer her hairstyling and makeup services for free to young women who couldn’t afford it. Perhaps most impressively, Fran had served as a foster mother to 34 children throughout the years, adopting six. Her adopted adult son Rashon has severe autism, and still lives with her.
So when Fran was diagnosed with cancer, it was a blow to her active, giving life, as well as the community that benefitted from it. She fought for decades to finally become cancer-free – only to learn that years of cancer treatments had destroyed her kidneys. Now, she endures hours of dialysis every week, and the woman who was so often out and about in the community she loved is often homebound.
“Dialysis totally keeps me from doing most things,” Fran says. “Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday I get dialysis at a clinic. A nurse comes on those days as well to remove excess fluid from my lungs.”
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated Fran’s fears of going out when she felt up to it. “I was scared for both myself and Rashon,” she says. “I don’t know what I would have done if one of us had caught COVID; it would have been devastating. Everything can be life or death when you’re on dialysis.”
An Opportunity to Receive the COVID-19 Vaccine Safely
Fortunately, just like the connections that Fran had made with her community, the Monmouth County Department of Health was forging connections with local organizations to conduct a grassroots effort to offer the COVID vaccine to Monmouth County’s homebound residents.
“Fran called me, and I could hear the worry in her voice,” says Denise Richardson, Chief Clerk of the Monmouth County Health Department – and a longtime friend of Fran’s. Denise connected Fran to the Department’s Homebound Program, and at a time when it was difficult to schedule COVID boosters, members of the Monmouth County Health Department Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), a group of medical volunteers who help in times of surge capacities, were able to visit Fran at home to provide her with booster doses. They were even able to vaccinate Rashon as well.
“I’m so proud of the Department of Health,” Denise says. “My department was able to get this program started and took care of so many people – they have provided over 500 homebound vaccinations.”
It wouldn’t have been possible, says Christopher Merkel, M.P.H., Public Health Coordinator and Health Officer, without the assistance of multiple departments and community organizations working together.
“Everyone pitched in, including the Monmouth County Department of Human Services, Division of Social Services, Office on Aging and Veterans Affairs, and SCAT (Special Citizen Area Transportation), along with community pharmacies, the Vising Nurse Association, Parker Clinic and other organizations” Merkel says. “The homebound population and their caregivers were absolutely dependent upon these agencies to get the care and vaccines they needed during a very scary and uncertain time. To this day, we still get homebound requests for vaccinations from residents in Monmouth County.”
“The way that these community groups came together, led by the Monmouth County Department of Health, in order to facilitate the homebound vaccination program and serve some of our most vulnerable residents is exemplary,” says Commissioner Susan M. Kiley, liaison to the Departments of Health and Human Services of Monmouth County. “More and more, we see a spirit of cooperation like this throughout Monmouth County, and that’s because the Monmouth ACTS initiative has been promoting that seamless approach to services by joining strengths since 2018. We were fortunate here in Monmouth County to have that cooperation in place before the pandemic, so that we could best serve our residents throughout.”
Fran Helps Her Community Again – By Spreading the Word
Fran was so pleased with her quick and easy experience with the homebound program that she spread the word amongst her community – encouraging those who were hesitant to get vaccinated.
“I spread the word about the program to friends, family, organizations I worked with,” she says. “All of my children and foster children I’m still in contact with have had the vaccine – when mama speaks, they listen.”
“The experience of Fran Gray parallels exactly the sort of grassroots connections Monmouth ACTS is cultivating,” says Commissioner Director Thomas A. Arnone. “In addition to the initiative’s efforts to streamline services, we facilitate outreach and engagement through a network of organizations and local leaders. The fact that Fran benefitted from these services, and then kept spreading the word about them to people she influences, is exactly what we’re trying to do. Fran kept the message going.”
To learn more about Monmouth ACTS, visit www.MonmouthACTS.org.
About Monmouth ACTS
Monmouth ACTS (Assisting Community Through Services) was launched by the Monmouth County Board of County Commissioners in 2018 to carry out recommendations of a Human Services Needs Assessment. This innovative public-private partnership brings together County employees from the Department of Human Services and community partners on the Monmouth ACTS Advisory Council (MAAC) to enhance access to services for County residents. For more information, visit www.monmouthACTS.org.