None too soon, vaccine to arrive at nursing homes

Posted 12/31/20

By ARDEN BASTIA Nursing homes have been hit hard by the COVID pandemic, but to local facilities in Warwick, the vaccine provides a light at the end of the tunnel.when it finally arrives. Rhode Island COVID associated deaths in nursing facilities have

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None too soon, vaccine to arrive at nursing homes


Nursing homes have been hit hard by the COVID pandemic, but to local facilities in Warwick, the vaccine provides a light at the end of the tunnel…when it finally arrives.

Rhode Island COVID associated deaths in nursing facilities have accounted for 70 percent of COVID deaths in the state. Staffing shortages and providing personal protective equipment (PPE) have incurred extra costs. However, as the vaccine starts to roll out, nursing home residents seem to fall further and further behind on the list to receive it.

For West Shore Health Center administrator Elizabeth DaRosa, COVID has greatly impacted the Warwick facility. DaRosa cites PPE as a top cost and staffing is a “constant battle”. The virus has changed nearly every part of their operation.

“How has it not? With no visitors we’ve become their family. We’ve had staff and residents contract COVID and now it’s a light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine,” she said in an interview.

According to a recent national survey from the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living, 56 percent of assisted living providers say they won’t make it another year given current operating pace due to increased COVID costs. The survey also found that PPE and staffing have been the top costs in response to COVID, and 61 percent of assisted living facilities have hired additional staff and 90 percent have asked current staff to work overtime.

The Pfizer vaccine is set to reach the West Shore Health Center facility on January 13, and DaRosa is hopeful things will start to turn around. But the waiting game in the meantime is “frustrating” to DaRosa and residents at the West Shore Health Center.

“We got hit very early in the pandemic, and our residents, unlike what the public believes, they watch the news everyday. They see other people getting the vaccine. I get asked constantly, ‘When’s our turn?’”

On Tuesday, Dec. 29, the RI Department of Health held a briefing to discuss the COVID vaccination efforts. According to Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the Phase 1 vaccine distribution will last through January and into February. Phase 1 includes vaccinating hospital staff, EMS, nursing home staff and residents, and long-term care facility staff and residents.

The state has received about 30,000 doses of the vaccine, and at the time of publication, has administered close to 13,000 vaccines.

Rick Miga, owner of assisted living facility Brentwood By the Bay, says it is “unacceptable” that nursing homes have to wait so long to receive the COVID vaccine.

“Right now, the primary concern for nursing home administrators is the COVID virus and the vaccinations,” he said in an interview. “We were promised vaccines early.”

Miga said Brentwood is slated to receive the vaccine Thursday, Dec. 31. “We’ve got our fingers crossed that they’re here at 9 a.m. Until they’re actually here, I won’t believe it. We’ve got to get these people vaccinated.”

According to Scott Fraser, CEO of Rhode Island Health Care Association, Warwick nursing homes should receive the vaccine between Dec. 29 and January 19. Sunny View Nursing Home is the last facility to receive the vaccine on the 19th, but Fraser says Walgreens is working on moving the date up.

For DaRosa and the West Shore Health Center, the vaccine will not be mandatory, but highly encouraged.

“At first, [residents] were uncertain, just like when the pandemic first hit,” she said in an interview. “But it has to be the solution. We all believe in science here. If this is the first step to getting back to normal, we’ll take two.”

The vaccine is also not required at the Brentwood facility, according to Miga, but says, “close to 100 percent of residents are on board” with getting the vaccine. “I can’t think of anyone who isn’t going to get it. As for workers, 75 to 80 percent are on board, but I think when they see coworkers getting it, there will be more.”

Piled on top of the COVID concerns for nursing homes is a proposed direct care mandate. On Dec. 16, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced that the Department of Health is drafting emergency regulation on minimum staff-to-patient ratios. The plan is still being finalized, but the regulations would require “3.8 staff hours per resident per day” for CNAs, nurses, and other direct care workers, according to DOH spokesman Joseph Wendelken.

This mandate concerns nursing home administrators, as it stretches staffing thin, requires extra funding, and could potentially shutter some nursing facility doors.

Despite all the concerns, Miga wants to bring the focus back to the “compassionate and caring” staff that has been there throughout the pandemic.

“Please remember the people that have provided care to our residents in all nursing homes,” said Miga. “They weren’t on TV, speaking of their sacrifices, they weren’t offering advice from afar. No, they were nose to nose with a COVID patient, day after day. Our individuals, our aides cooks, nurses, activities, housekeepers, day in and day out, seven days a week, put on a smile, sang a song, danced, hugged, prayed and cried together for our residents. All Rhode Islanders should be proud of these caring and giving individuals and should support the need for adequate funding for all nursing homes.”

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