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Assisted living residents able to get COVID-19 vaccines in early January

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Posted at 4:47 PM, Dec 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-24 20:54:59-05

GILBERT, AZ — It's been a challenging year for those working at and living inside nursing homes, assisted living, and long-term care facilities all over the country. Not to mention an emotional time for families who have loved ones in these facilities as well.

For many of them, the COVID-19 vaccine represents hope and a shot at gaining their freedoms back. This includes the freedom to leave the facility and visit family, the freedom to go to a store, and the freedom to sit inside your loved one's room and hold their hand.

ABC15 has just learned residents at one assisted living facility have the green light to get their COVID-19 vaccines on January 4.

Dawn Milburn, community relations director at Quail Park at Morrison Ranch, says Walgreens will be coming to vaccinate residents ready to get the vaccine. It will be mandatory. Staff at the facility are still in the process of getting their vaccines.

The facility was hit hard during the second wave of the pandemic.

All year long, Milburn says staff has worked hard to keep residents entertained, busy, and engaged during this challenging time.

"I can tell you the hardest part for us is that we can never let down. There are times that we are sad, there are times we are tired, and we can’t show that because we have to make sure we have the confidence of our community and our residents," said Milburn.

From ice-cream trucks to dressing up as Mrs. Santa and making the rounds, to Christmas carolers stationed outside the facility for the first time this year, the staff at the facility have organized many activities to keep things as "normal" as possible in a year consumed by the pandemic. To keep things light-hearted, they even posted a video of Santa Claus undergoing a COVID-19 test before allowing him into the facility.

Residents have been visiting family members through barriers of glass and windows. While this allows them to see loved ones, it does not allow them to hold hands or hug.

To get around this, the facility set up an area with a plastic see-through curtain and holes on it which they called their "cuddle curtain". This allowed family members to wear plastic gloves or gowns and hug their loved ones, with layers of plastic protecting them from skin-to-skin contact.

Those visiting family members on Christmas Eve were happy, but also emotional as this was the first time in years, they could not share a meal together.

As for residents, Milburn said the majority of them welcomed the COVID-19 vaccine and were ready to roll up their sleeves.

"I want it. I do not want to worry about whether I am in contact with somebody, or who they've been in contact with," said Dee Hostetler, a resident at Quail Park at Morrison Ranch.

"People call us old and I think we are one day older than yesterday, but one day younger than tomorrow and I want to enjoy every single day," she added.

"It can't come soon enough for me. I am willing to try anything so that maybe we can at least get out and visit with family again," said Leah Rae Duea.

Faye Addington, also a resident at Quail Park at Morrison Ranch, was not so sure about it.

"I don't feel comfortable about taking it at this time. I just feel like I've never had the flu vaccine. I really try to take care of myself and be healthy and take care of my immune system. I just don't feel comfortable taking something in my body that I don't really know anything about,' said Addington.

Her husband disagreed. He was willing to get the vaccine.

Milburn said the vaccines would not be mandatory. They planned to reassess how to reopen the facility or whether to allow residents out of the property to visit family once they had received the second round of the vaccine. They were unsure whether those who refused to get the vaccine would have to remain on the property for now. Milburn added they were learning new things every day, and planned to take this one day at a time.