AUSTIN (KXAN) — For five days, Barbara Ritchie refreshed her computer screen trying to register for a coronavirus vaccine. Ritchie said stress from managing a blood clotting disorder and her mother’s recent coronavirus death created an urgency to get signed up.
“I thought I was doing everything that I could,” Ritchie said. “I didn’t know all the tricks.”
Using the Nextdoor app, she contacted a neighbor who was able to get Ritchie an appointment at a drive-thru facility in Austin the very next day.
“I wrote to her in an email ‘you are an angel,’” Ritchie said.
Ritchie noticed dozens of other frustrated neighbors seeking help scheduling vaccine appointments on the Nextdoor app.
“I thought there’s got to be a better way of doing this to make it easier for people to connect to those in the community,” Ritchie said. “Knowing that there’s somebody out there is helpful.”
So she created a list called “Scheduling Angels & Information Angels” using the names of Nextdoor users who posted offering help. Next to each Scheduling Angel’s name, she put the neighborhood they lived in and if they had any special qualifications, like being bilingual.
Overnight, a “tsunami of messages” flooded Ritchie’s inbox. What surprised her the most was the number of people who wanted to be an angel themselves.
Tips from the Angels
“I had posted a few things that you’re not born knowing,” said Gail Gemberling, the Scheduling Angel for Rosedale. “Like on the Austin Public Health site they use your password as your username. But at the end of it you have to put a ‘.ph’ for public health.”
Gemberling retired from teaching statistics and said having a research academic background gave her the idea to compile the vaccine distribution spreadsheets from Travis, Williamson and Hays County.
“It’s intimidating, but mainly it’s just availability — you have to sit there and stare at the screen.” Gemberling said.
Gemberling said she noticed most appointments were being posted in the afternoon and continued through the night until around 10 a.m. the next day. She stays up a little later than usual sitting with two laptops open on the different sites, Gemberling said.
“I like to keep two up, because if you have too many pages open then everything’s slow, and you’re not gonna win the fight,” Gemberling said.
Tammi Esson, the Scheduling Angel in Westlake Hills, said the trick is timing and refreshing. Two minutes into the interview for this article, Esson refreshed her screen 12 times.
“A typical elderly person doesn’t necessarily have the same reflexes to move as quickly or to understand technology,” Esson said.
Esson has helped five people get signed up for vaccines so far. When she sees openings she posts it to the Nextdoor app. She keeps her phone close checking every notification for word of more openings.
“We’re all kind of there to support one another in this group,” Esson said.
While Esson’s schedule is full at the moment, the Scheduling Angels hope more people will be inspired to join the list.
“I mean Nextdoor was made to help your neighbor so that’s what we’re trying to do,” Gemberling said.