Vaccinations have begun at local nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Residents and staff at two facilities have received the first round of vaccine doses in recent days, while others expect to soon receive the shots.
Heartland Meadows received vaccinations Friday; Windsor Place received them Monday.
Moran Manor has scheduled a vaccination event for Jan. 27. Greystone in Iola and Arrowood Lane Assisted Living in Humboldt also expect to receive the vaccine soon.
Residents and most staff are voluntarily accepting the vaccine. Though development and approval of the vaccine was fast-tracked, the CDC and other health experts determined it to be safe and effective.
It’s still not clear if visitor restrictions and social distancing requirements will be lifted after all area nursing home residents and staff have been fully vaccinated. The state will determine that, facility administrators said.
For the most part, facilities have kept COVID-19 contained. Few residents have been infected; a greater number of staff have tested positive but numbers were still relatively low. None of the residents who have been infected have died from COVID-related complications, administrators said.
Greystone reported a cluster of 21 cases in November, consisting of both residents and staff. Most were symptom- free.
Windsor Place reported its first positive cases among residents last week, with three.
All facilities regularly test residents and staff, at least once a week and sometimes twice a week.
They’ve also all adapted to social distancing requirements, utilizing technology to allow for online chats. Some built special rooms to allow residents to safely visit family and friends behind a plexiglass barrier.
A summary of the situation at each facility follows:
About 78% of Windsor Place staff and all residents except one received the first round of vaccine doses Monday morning, administrator Linda Milholland said.
“I think everybody was pretty excited about it,” she said. “We don’t require it, but we encouraged them to get it and we gave them a lot of education from our corporate office and the CDC.”
Their enthusiasm was tempered, though, by the news last week that three residents had tested positive. The facility tests for COVID twice a week. It was the facility’s first positive case of a resident, though a small number of staff have been infected.
The positive cases meant the facility had to go into more of a lockdown mode to prevent infection from spreading. Residents are confined to their rooms.
Windsor Place offers a “chat room” where residents and family or friends can visit, with a plexiglass divider and an intercom system. That was built early in the pandemic, and it has brought a great deal of comfort to residents and their families, Milholland said.
“Even though it wasn’t in person, it was personal,” she said. “I think people are more concerned now that COVID is in the building, but how lucky that we went all these months without it.”
Greystone and Arrowood Lane Assisted Living
The coronavirus has taken a toll on the bottom line at both Greystone and Arrowood, as the facility stopped admitting new residents because of the virus, according to Peggy Strong, who has been the executive director at both facilities for 22 years.
Greystone, which has 26 beds and is usually full, has two vacancies. Arrowood has 22 beds with four vacancies.
The pandemic also has made it even more difficult to hire nursing staff, which is a struggle in the best of times. They recently hired three high school students who just obtained their CNA certificates from the new allied health program at the Regional Rural Technical Center at LaHarpe.
Though Greystone had an outbreak of cases in November, it has been free of COVID since then. Arrowood had two staff members test positive in December, but otherwise has not been affected.
The facilities are also adding a designated area where families can safely visit relatives, divided by a petition similar to what is offered at Windsor Place. Appointments are required.
Staff and residents are looking forward to vaccination, Strong said.
“We would just like it to be over. Everybody wants things to go back to normal so you can visit and give somebody a hug,” she said. “That’s the hardest part, not being able to give the hugs. So we say ‘I love you’ a lot more and we’re more boisterous in talking about our feelings instead of showing them.”
All 12 residents and all but four staff members received their first round of vaccine doses on Friday.
“Our residents did amazing. They were so excited to get the vaccine,” Leslie Nelson-Weir, executive director, said. “Everyone is feeling fine today and our next dose is Feb. 5.”
The staff who abstained from the vaccine said they wanted more time to research the matter.
The facility had a handful of staff members who have tested positive since the pandemic began. One resident tested positive, but Nelson-Weir said it’s a mystery how that person might have been exposed. No other cases were reported among staff at the time.
“We’re very blessed. We’ve been able to keep it contained and the residents have been able to have their New Year’s Eve party and do some other activities,” Nelson-Weir said.
The facility purchased an air purifying machine that Nelson-Weir believes has made a big difference. She hopes it will reduce not just COVID infections but also other things like seasonal flu.
The state has been very generous in providing personal protection equipment and cleaning supplies, she said.
“We’ve done really well and our staff has stepped up to cover extra shifts when someone had to quarantine because a family member got it,” she said. “Because we’re so small, we’re more like a family.”
The facility has been able to maintain some social activities and allows socially distanced visits with family members. Residents typically eat in the dining room and have continued things like Bible study groups, but they cut back on music programs. Nelson-Weir learned how to cut hair because trips to the beauty salon were not an option.
“It’s been sporadic, when we can have visitors and when we can go out, but it’s not a prison,” Nelson-Weir said. “I think we’ve done as well as could be expected. Better than expected.”
A vaccination clinic for residents and staff is scheduled for Jan. 27, administrator Jennifer Reed said.
All of the residents have signed up for it and most staff members.
Only a handful of staff have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began, and all recovered.
“We’re just trying to keep folks safe. There are some frustrations because it’s been going on for so long,” Reed said.
She wanted to clear up some misconceptions, especially regarding visitation. Visitation is limited, but staff will accommodate family in special circumstances. Each case is examined individually.
The facility offers a visitation room where family members can visit with friends. If it isn’t possible for a resident to travel to the room, family members will don protective gear and undergo a wellness screening in order to visit a room.
Technology has helped, as well. Telemedicine allows residents to see their doctor without leaving the facility. Staff also will help residents use tablets to make video calls with family and friends.
“This generation is typically not too tech savvy, but, boy, have we really learned,” Reed said. “Our elders want to see their families’ faces, whether it’s through a window or a screen. And it gives families that extra reassurance when they can see their faces.
“It’s been a roller coaster for everybody involved.”