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Service went well above and beyond

By Staff | Feb 10, 2021

To the editor:

At a time when there is so much negativity about government, elected officials and government employees, it’s important to give recognition when there is good news to report.

This letter is about problem my wife and I experienced getting scheduled for our second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and the outstanding assistance I received from District 1 Lee County Commissioner Ruane’s office and his Executive Assistant Pamela Smith and from Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais’s office and his assistants Patty DiPiero and Katie Welton.

First, some background. My wife and I had our first COVID-19 Moderna vaccine on Jan. 6 at the old airport terminal location. At the time we were given a CDC card that listed Feb. 3 as the date for our second dose and were told at the site that someone would contact us. I followed the Lee County Health COVID-19 Vaccine information webpage and local media and learned that those of us in that Jan. 5 through 9 group would be getting a text, followed by a call this past week to schedule the second dose.

My wife and I literally stayed at home near our cell phones and landline phone awaiting the call. The first call came into my Verizon cell phone line and went immediately to voicemail without ringing, giving me no chance to answer or to be given a working number I could call back. From Friday through Monday morning, this happened seven times on my phone, twice on my wife’s Verizon cell phone, twice on our Xfinity (Comcast) landline and I found out twice on our neighbor’s Verizon cell phone.

Each time this happened I became frustrated and anxious that I would not be able to be contacted for the second dose, as the county health’s website said they would attempt to reach us three times.

I am very tech savvy and triple-checked my iPhone to make sure all of the call blocking and call silencing features were turned off. I did the same with my wife’s phone.

Finally realizing that the problem was not with my phone, but with something else, on Saturday I attempted to call Verizon. I was only able to get through to a representative on a Verizon chat line. After having that rep have me “reset my network,” which did not work, I requested to have someone from Verizon call me. On Sunday morning, I received a call from a Verizon tech support person. After she confirmed that indeed all my phone settings were correct, she gathered more information and submitted a tech support complaint work order, giving it top priority, as it dealt with a COVID-19 vaccination issue. Then she said, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to do this, but because this is somewhat of a life-or-death-type situation, I’m going to try to reach an actual technician who works on these issues,” and asked me to remain on the line while she attempted to do that.

I was on the phone with the Verizon rep for 59 minutes. She did get through to a technician who said he was trying to determine why this was happening. After more than 50 minutes, she told me the tech determined the problem was with a company called TNS Call Guardian (which I found out later is a company Verizon and other companies use for spam filtering), which had tagged the 239-747-6715 phone number from which the vendor schedulers were calling as a “robocall spam” number and that was not allowing my Verizon phone to get the call, no matter what my phone settings were. They said they would work on the issue at the highest possible urgency because of the COVID-19 vaccinations implications. They also sent me a form for TNS Call Guardian where I could report the issue and ask for the 239-747-6715 to be cleared, which I found out later didn’t immediately work.

Upon finding out the problem was with Verizon, it was evidently other Verizon users were having the same issue I was having. So, Sunday night, I emailed my county commissioner and the county manager.

Then on Monday morning, I called Commissioner Ruane’s executive assistant, Pamela Smith. She listened patiently to my story outlining the issue and my asking if you or anyone could help us get a call from a different number that would go through to our phones so we could get our second shot scheduled. I was fearful we were not going to be able to be scheduled, as there was no way to talk with anyone calling to tell them there was an issue with their phone number and Verizon (and evidently Xfinity too). Also, I could not reach an actual person by calling the listed phone numbers for the Lee County Health Department.

Ms. Smith showed great understanding and told me how the vendor being used (which I learned was Tidal Basin) was handling the scheduling calls and was not under county authority. Ms. Smith said she would transfer me to County Manager Assistant Patty DiPiero, as she thought she might be able to help me.

I told Ms. DiPiero my story and she said there have been other reports of this problem. She said that she had a contact at the vendor, whose name was Dana, that she had contacted in the past and that she had helped. Ms. DiPiero said she would contact Dana, tell her about the issue with the phone number they were using, and ask her to call me from a different number. She then told me to call her back if we hadn’t received a call by 2 p.m. She was very reassuring, telling me that I would get my second dose. I could tell Ms. DiPiero was frustrated that county officials were not able to directly help with scheduling issues.

When I hadn’t received a call yet by 2 p.m., I called Ms. DiPiero back. I got her phone message that she was out and the message gave a number to call. After calling that number, I got to County Manager Executive Assistant Katie Welton. She, too, was so very sympathetic and understanding and told me she would reach out to Dana at the vendor right away. Sensing my great concern, she also said, “I promise you that you will get your second dose.” That was very reassuring.

At a little after 6 p.m. Monday night, I received a call from a Jacob at scheduling. He was calling from an 850 area code number, which was probably his cell phone. He said that he was calling on an “elevated request” to get me scheduled, but because he tried and could still not get through to my phone using the regular lines the vendor was using, he needed to get my information, hang up, get back on the vendor’s system, and then would call me back with what date and time he was able to get us. My wife and I are now scheduled for our second dose vaccination at 11:15 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 4. This is all thanks to the three excellent assistants to Manager Desjarlais and Commissioner Ruane.

All three women went above and beyond my expectation on helping me. In addition, they were extremely sympathetic, professional and made me feel that my problem was their highest priority. That is absolutely incredible constituent service. My hope is that they will be well recognized for their wonderful work.

In addition, it speaks highly of County Manager Desjarlais and Commissioner Ruane. They both have hired extremely capable people and given them the authority to solve problems for their constituents. These three executive assistants and their bosses have renewed my faith in how government and government officials are supposed to represent their constituents.

Larry Atkinson

Cape Coral