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Guest opinion: Senior care facilities need vaccine as soon as possible
GUEST OPINION

Guest opinion: Senior care facilities need vaccine as soon as possible

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Joyce Hill

Joyce Hill poses for a portrait at St. John’s United in Billings in this Dec. 18 file photo. Care homes across Montana were eagerly awaiting a COVID-19 vaccine rollout then, and many are still waiting.

Upon receiving many phone calls from frustrated family members, many of whom blame long-term care with the slowness of vaccinations among residents of senior care facilities, it seems necessary to address this issue publicly.

First, it is joyous that more and more people in health care are getting vaccinated. It does not matter who you are nor what priority you are in, no one should be upset by other’s fortunes. Vaccination of frontline hospital workers will provide them confidence to perform at their very best. This is a great development.

Unfortunately, this does not solve the problem of reducing hospitalizations. The fastest way to reduce hospitalizations via vaccinations is to vaccinate the largest group of individuals most at risk of developing severe cases of COVID-19, thus requiring hospitalization. In most communities, that group is seniors who live in a community setting. All regulating bodies have determined this to be the case at the federal level, which is why residents of senior care facilities are in the highest vaccination priority.

Now, after a month of the vaccinations approved for use under an emergency use authorization, very few long-term care facilities across the state have received the vaccine for their residents and staff. This delay should concern everyone as we hear about new strains of the virus. Any new strain of COVID-19 discovered in the U.S. that is introduced within a senior care setting that has not been significantly vaccinated will result in further unnecessary loss of life.

At St. John’s United, our proactive efforts have sadly been in vain. When Pfizer and Moderna started speaking about their cold storage needs this past summer, St. John’s invested in a freezer using emergency relief funds that would reach the sub-zero temperatures of negative 95 degrees as part of our COVID-19 testing project. Additionally, St. John’s United has its own pharmacy and along with our nurses, has administered over 20,000 influenza vaccinations over the past 20 years. Most nursing homes are experts at mass vaccinations as hundreds are vaccinated in one or two days within our nation’s nursing homes each year. Having the necessary equipment, capacity and motivation, St. John’s has communicated with the Montana Department of Health requesting to receive vaccinations directly. St. John’s United also offered to vaccinate staff of all area nursing homes. This request has been rejected due to the fact that we voluntarily signed up with CVS. The state would not allow us to voluntarily withdraw.

Please understand, this guest opinion is not a call to reverse decisions seeing that by Jan. 24, nearly seven weeks after vaccines were approved, the staff and residents of St. John’s United will have received their first dose of vaccines from CVS. What I do ask is for the public to provide a little grace and patience to long-term care providers who have, at every step of this pandemic, been an afterthought to solutions and a forethought to the problems.

David Trost is President and CEO of St. John’s United, a human services organization creating nurturing environments for children and seniors of hope, dignity and love.

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