Appointment schedulers extraordinaire: The Hadfields make miracles for those who need COVID shots

March 28, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

BY SUSAN HANAFEE – What miracles can be performed with a collection of old but workable laptops, iPads and phones? At least 74 – the number of people tech entrepreneur Tom Hadfield and his wife, Christen, have been able to help with COVID vaccinations since the beginning of February.

The good news is that they are eager to do more.

“We are happy to help anyone on the island who is eligible,” Tom said, offering an email contact – christen@bgvaccine.org – to those who qualify but are challenged by the intricacies of appointment scheduling. He said they can book about 10 to 20 vaccinations each week.

In Florida, individuals who are 50 and above or declared medically vulnerable by a doctor can now receive COVID vaccinations, along with health care workers and educators.

The first recipients of the Hadfields’ humanitarian efforts were Christen’s parents, Randy and Sue Eddy, longtime Boca Grande residents. They were soon followed by others who met the age requirements in Florida but were not able to receive vaccines from the Boca Grande Health Clinic.

“When Publix opened up their booking portal, I wanted to make sure my wife’s parents were vaccinated as soon as possible,” Tom said. “I got 16 devices out of the cupboard and was able to open 48 browser tabs, getting Randy and Sue their shots in early February. When they shared their vaccination story with friends, the requests for our help grew. We ended up enlisting seven volunteers around the country to help make bookings.”

Courtney Borntraeger, who is in her 60s, was concerned about getting the vaccine for her husband, Carl, a kidney-transplant recipient in his early 70s. She had tried on her own to book appointments on the Publix website but couldn’t find anything available within a three-hour drive. When Sue Eddy called her about a month ago to tell her what Tom and Christen were doing to help people got their shots, everything changed for the better.

“The clinic had told us we had to wait our turn,” Courtney says. “But Tom was able to work around our commitments, getting me an appointment at the Gulf Cove Publix and my husband one at the new Publix in Port Charlotte. It went beautifully and we were so thankful.” Both have now had two vaccinations, allowing their slots at the clinic to be used by others.

Christen and Tom Hadfield.

Courtney’s story is just one of many. The Hadfields also were able to locate a second shot in Placida for an 80-year-old who had back surgery and whose first shot required a 14-hour drive. A just-in-time vaccine allowed one individual to go to the funeral of a loved one. Another who had been separated from her family was able to see and hug her children after many months.

Tom, co-founder of Mio, a communications company in Austin, Texas, and his circle of appointment-makers are not alone in reaching out to help the elderly and medically challenged obtain vaccinations. A cottage industry of unpaid, tech-savvy individuals has sprung up and gained national media coverage for their efforts.

“I think most of us were motivated by how bad the system was,” Tom says. “If you were trying to design something that would be easy and stress-free for elderly people to use, it would be the exact opposite of the Publix appointment system. Society made a decision to protect the most vulnerable first, but then made it really hard for them.

“The vaccine is wrapped up in fundamental human emotions,” he adds. “When you combine that with the frustration that a lot of people feel with computers, it can cause a lot of distress.”

Tom also credits the Boca Grande Clinic for doing a phenomenal job with scaling up vaccine distribution quickly. “They are the front-line heroes,” he adds. “We have been the overflow help.”

There seems to be little vaccination hesitancy in Boca Grande, with more than 60 percent of the people over 65 being vaccinated. Still, to have herd immunity, more people on the island – including those few who are reluctant – need to receive the shots, Tom says.

There is no charge for the Hadfields’ services. They request donations be made to Heifer International, an organization whose mission is to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth.

For more than 75 years, communities around the world have been transformed by Heifer’s life-changing work, translating to more than 36 million families lifted out of hunger and poverty. They start by using donations to provide animals and training to families in need.

Island users of the Hadfield’s services have contributed more than $5,000 for the Boca Grande Gift Ark, which includes two water buffalo, two cows, two sheep and two goats, along with bees, chicks, rabbits and more. 

“We are huge fans of Heifer International,” says Christen. “Tom currently serves on the board of directors, and we both had a very moving trip in 2017 to see how Heifer is helping end poverty and hunger in Tanzania.”

Tom has a history of trying to make a difference for others. While in college he was selected as a Goldman Sachs Global Leader, which came with a grant that he could spend however he wanted. He decided to take computers to Zambia in Africa. He quickly learned that there were more pressing needs and ended up supporting a food program feeding 500 children a day.

“We don’t see ourselves as heroes,” he says of his group’s vaccine booking efforts. “We are just trying to provide help where it is needed.”