COVID-19 Vaccines in nursing homes

Until then, we’re still connecting residents to their families.

The holidays have come and gone but the COVID-19 virus is still at large. Everyone is anxious to spend time with their loved ones and resume normal activities. In assisted living and nursing home communities, this has been an ongoing challenge.

Many have elderly parents or friends in nursing homes or assisted living facilities where restrictions are in place to keep them safe.  People are wondering “Can we visit?” and “Is it safe to take our loved ones out for gatherings?”  Many fear that their elders are isolated, and depression is at a high.

Thankfully, the vaccines are coming.  The state of Wisconsin has already begun vaccinating residents of nursing homes and those in hospitals, along with front-line healthcare workers.  Assisted living residents and staff are next.  We anticipate that the vaccines should be coming by late January or early February.  Both pharmaceutical companies (Moderna and Pfizer) will have a two-stage vaccination process, so people will not be entirely safe until they receive both vaccinations and allow time for them to do their job, so people should continue to practice regular hand washing, safe distancing, and wear masks until we are cleared. We have waited a long time for this, and we’re anxious to be able to resume normal lives again since COVID-19 arrived last year.

One benefit of being in an assisted living facility is that the residents may receive the COVID-19 vaccine earlier than those living in the community.  Now is a great time to make a move if you’re considering it.  Assisted living and pharmacy staff will handle all the paperwork and provide both doses, and they will submit paperwork to your insurance provider and handle the follow-up. There is no need to register online, wait on hold, or go out since the pharmacy will come right to our doors. Getting vaccinated sooner means that family visits, hugs, and gatherings may soon be in the picture.  A target date of March 1 or even mid-March is a great time for a move and to get on the vaccine schedule.

Many have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine’s efficacy and safety.  The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) provides plenty of great information about the available vaccines.

The CDC can answer many questions you may have via their FAQ on their website. Is it safe?  What are the side effects? Why should I get the vaccine and what are the benefits?

What we do know now is that not only will the vaccine help keep you from getting sick, it will also help us reach a “herd immunity.”  The more people who are immune, the faster the virus stops spreading.  The vaccine will not give you COVID-19, as some think. There could be some side effects, but the vaccine does not actually make you test positive for the coronavirus.  Two vaccinations are done, and until we are cleared, we need to continue to practice precautions that are in place and continue masking.

We want to spend more time with our parents and loved ones, but until we are cleared and vaccinated, what alternatives do we have?

One way to stay connected is through Skype and FaceTime visits.  Sometimes calling frequently and speaking to your loved one isn’t enough, and it’s really important to see them.  Many communities have staff assisting residents and providing the necessary technology to make this happen.  A scheduled appointment works very well in this case.

Window visits work well for some, but not all.  Many places have restrictions with opening windows because that can spread infection, and the cold weather may prohibit this anyway.  And for residents who do not have ground floor access, this doesn’t work unless they are able to use public space or a balcony.  I’ve been privileged to be involved in the planning of some amazing events that families arranged. One resident turned 90, and her family did a drive-by caravan through the parking lot, complete with large signs and police cars with sirens.  It brought tears to my eyes.  The resident was so touched, and her family had so much fun doing this socially-distanced event.

I’ve also seen families bring birthdays to third-floor residents by bringing balloons and singing from the parking lot while the resident came to the balcony.  It’s not the same as being there for hugs, but it is still a way to connect.

If you’re looking for more ways to connect with your loved one, what about a family Zoom call?  Delivering a home-cooked meal to your loved one is a great idea too.  What about a short video that staff can play for your loved one?  You can also send a gift package or make a tape or CD of their favorite music to play in their apartment.

We love connecting our residents with their families during this difficult time.  If you’d like to see what we’re doing at Villa St. Francis Assisted Living to stay connected, please visit our Facebook page.

By Patty Murdock, Director of Marketing at Villa St. Francis Assisted Living and Memory Care