Home Health News ‘The end of an incredibly long road’ as first Oregon senior care home staff and residents get coronavirus vac – OregonLive

‘The end of an incredibly long road’ as first Oregon senior care home staff and residents get coronavirus vac – OregonLive

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It was almost a mundane affair, the 20-year-old senior care worker peering into her phone as she sat, one crossed leg bouncing on top of the other, waiting to get the shot.

But like most things related to ending the coronavirus pandemic, the occasion was, in fact, momentous.

Gwen Riggs was about to be the first Rose Villa Senior Care Living Community worker to get a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, setting yet another milestone in Oregon’s effort to end the pandemic’s brutal toll on seniors in nursing, assisted living and memory care homes.

Six months into her medical career, Riggs said she looked forward to knowing that the vulnerable residents in her care will have an extra level of protection from a potential outbreak and possible death.

“It’s not, like, a cure,” said Riggs, a certified nursing assistant. “But it definitely gives you peace of mind.”

COVID-19 vaccine arrives at Oregon nursing homes

Gwen Riggs, 20, CNA at Rose Villa Senior Living in Oak Grove, Oregon waits with other staff members to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as the first round of vaccinations at nursing homes begins in Oregon on December 21, 2020. Brooke Herbert/The Oregonian

Pharmaceutical giants Walgreens and CVS are launching a coronavirus vaccination drive across Oregon senior care homes this week, working directly with the facilities to set up injection stations for residents and staff.

The first shots were given Monday, with Rose Villa at the front of the line. The eventual goal is to get as many of the 60,000 or so workers and seniors inoculated against the disease as possible.

The vaccinations couldn’t come too soon. While Oregon’s daily coronavirus case numbers have been dropping in recent weeks, residents in care homes remain the most vulnerable to contagion and death.

It takes just one asymptomatic but sick worker to go through an eight-hour shift and fail to follow precise precautions at some point to introduce the disease to a care home.

COVID-19 vaccine arrives at Oregon nursing homes

Gwen Riggs, 20, CNA at Rose Villa Senior Living in Oak Grove, Oregon registers to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as the first round of vaccinations at Oregon nursing homes begins on December 21, 2020. Brooke Herbert/The Oregonian

The virus can bounce from the worker to a resident, who might then pass it on to another worker, who might then pass it on to other residents and staff – all before managers even suspect the virus is within the facility’s walls.

“We are eager to inoculate every person in our long-term care facilities as swiftly as we can,” Gov. Kate Brown said in a statement Monday, “to prevent more heartbreaking loss, and work towards the day that the residents who have sacrificed so much can reunite with their families once again.”

Monday marked the second week of good news in Oregon. Last week, 4,475 health care workers got their initial shots, health officials said. The state has received 35,100 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and expects another 25,350 doses this week.

Nationwide, care homes, health care facilities and hospitals are among the first strategic targets for inoculating the population as vaccines become increasingly more available. Assuming Oregon follows the advice of a federal advisory panel, next in line could be people 75 and older and essential workers.

COVID-19 vaccine arrives at Oregon nursing homes

Blanca Rokstad, CNA at Rose Villa Senior Living in Oak Grove, Oregon holds up her COVID-19 vaccination card after receiving the vaccine during the first round of vaccinations at Oregon nursing homes on December 21, 2020. Brooke Herbert/The Oregonian

About half the state’s coronavirus deaths have been people who lived in congregate care homes, most of them in the state’s 685 or so licensed care homes. Staff, residents and others connected to the homes account for only 8% of Oregon’s total coronavirus cases.

The vaccine is expected to end, or at least curb, that cycle, with an impact hopefully being felt by March, Oregon’s top official overseeing long-term care facilities, Fariborz Pakseresht, said last week. About 22,500 initial doses are planned for the state’s 130 nursing homes. Assisted living facilities are slated to come next.

Even though the impact won’t be immediate, care home managers are welcoming the long-awaited development.

“It is finally coming to the end of an incredibly long road,” said nursing director Bev Shields, citing a litany of harms the pandemic has inflicted on the residents and staff she is responsible for.

COVID-19 vaccine arrives at Oregon nursing homes

Bev Shields, nursing director at Rose Villa Senior Living in Oak Grove, Oregon oversaw some of her staff as they received the first round of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines at the facility on December 21, 2020. “It is finally coming to the end of an incredibly long road,” she said.Brooke Herbert/The Oregonian

The seniors in her care – about 90% of whom have dementia – have been starving for human contact, and staff don’t have time to give everyone the personal, one-on-one care they need.

Residents can become withdrawn and anxious as a result, she said, and that can further dishearten the workers, who are already stressed by the ever-present challenge of wearing protective equipment properly and the fear of catching the disease and spreading it to family.

The mood is different, however, now that the vaccine is here.

“They’re ecstatic,” Shields said.

Rose Villa’s Performing Arts Center — usually the site of holiday shows, caroling and parties this time of year — was finally prepared for the line of staff in the hall after a 2 ½-hour delay getting residents vaccinated, who went first. Three vaccination stations were at the ready as CVS staff drew doses of the vaccine and saline solution into syringes.

Riggs, the certified nursing assistant, handed in paperwork then sat down next to a CVS worker preparing a syringe. She lifted the sleeve of her black Rose Villa-branded T-shirt and watched as the worker swabbed her arm with an alcohol pad, injected the vaccine and patched her up with a band-aid.

“Good,” Riggs said, asked after she got up how it felt to get the shot.

COVID-19 vaccine arrives at Oregon nursing homes

Gwen Riggs, 20, CNA at Rose Villa Senior Living in Oak Grove, Oregon receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as the first round of vaccinations at nursing homes begins in Oregon on December 21, 2020. Brooke Herbert/The Oregonian

For Riggs, the vaccine’s greatest promise is the human connections it will hopefully allow to resume. It’s not just that residents miss their families, which she said they very much do, but also that the masks and face shields make understanding each other a struggle, especially for residents who are already hard of hearing.

“You spend a little bit more time saying the same thing over and over again,” Riggs said. “It’s not like you can just take it all off and talk to them.”

Riggs got into the business to test her own interest in the medical field. She’s planning to be a nurse, and she got her certified nursing assistant certification late last year. The night shift at Rose Villa, her “first real job,” showed her she does want to stick with it — her motivation untouched by the pandemic.

“Sometimes you get older and you can’t do something anymore, and you want someone there to help,” she said. “I want to be able to be there to help people.”

COVID-19 vaccine arrives at Oregon nursing homes

Gwen Riggs, 20, CNA at Rose Villa Senior Living in Oak Grove, Oregon received the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine during the first round of vaccinations at Oregon nursing homes on December 21, 2020. “It’s not, like, a cure,” she said, “but it definitely gives you peace of mind.”Brooke Herbert/The Oregonian

For months, Rose Villa CEO Vassar Byrd has been living with the fear that the virus could get inside her facility. If it does, the impact could be devastating.

“It’s very emotional. It’s very upsetting,” Byrd said. “People come here and stay for decades. It’s, it’s like my own family member, you know? It couldn’t be more personal.”

Do you have a tip? Send me an email.

— Fedor Zarkhin

fzarkhin@oregonian.com | 503-294-7675 | @fedorzarkhin

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