Senior living facilities prepare for vaccine distribution
Photo: Deb Silverthorn
Legacy Willow Bend residents Jean and Bob Weinfeld are eager to get their COVID-19 vaccines so they can hug their children and grandchildren someday soon.

Arriving Jan. 2

By Leah Vann

Jean, 84, and Bob Weinfeld, 94, are counting the days until they get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The two live at The Legacy’s Willow Bend campus, a life care retirement community, one of many senior living campuses across the country that will receive the first round of vaccinations alongside health care workers.

“We’re excited,” Jean Weinfeld said. “Hopefully that’ll change our life here even if it doesn’t outside of it. Hopefully it’ll give us a little more freedom with our friends here and the ability to get together.”

Jean laughs over the phone with Bob next to her on speakerphone.

“I think we would be classified as relatively social people and although we’ve enjoyed our 64 years together, we like seeing other people too,” Jean said.

So far, according to Melissa Orth, president and CEO of The Legacy Senior Communities, The Legacy has provided the state with their preferred pharmacy, Walgreens, and submitted a vaccine request for 560 people, including 260 residents and 300 employees.

Both The Legacy Willow Bend and The Legacy Midtown Park will be in the first group.

“There is guidance from the federal level and from the CDC, but it’s really incumbent upon the states to determine how they’re going to administer and deliver the vaccine,” Orth said.

Orth said that the plan is to have three dates when the vaccine will be administered, and the first will be Saturday.

The Legacy has kept restrictions on its residents, limiting dining to within their own apartments unless in a group of three to four outdoors. Social activities such as bingo and happy hours have been curtailed. The social isolation and the fear of catching a fatal virus have been rough, and residents are eager to resume pre-pandemic socializing.

“Our children do visit, but we sit behind a plexiglass wall and talk,” Jean said. “During Christmas time, you see all the commercials of gift exchanges with families and people grab each other and hug and kiss each other, and that made me very sad because I haven’t been able to feel my children.”

The state determines which vaccine will be used — Pfizer or Moderna. Orth learned near press time Monday, that The Legacy will receive the Pfizer vaccine, which like the Moderna vaccine requires two doses. 

The first day will be open to the residents and staff willing to take the vaccine, and 21 days later, they will receive the second dose.

“We’ve had really strong support for the vaccine and the indication is that many and most of our residents are not only willing but also excited to be vaccinated,” Orth said. “Compared to the residents, I think the feelings among the employees are a little more mixed.”

The Legacy’s Director of Rehabilitation Kathy Merrill echoes that sentiment among employees, saying there’s apprehension surrounding the vaccine, given its novelty and lack of history.

But the pandemic has greatly impacted the occupational and physical therapy industry, and she feels fortunate that therapists at The Legacy have been able to keep their jobs doing certified nurse assistant work and fulfill other various duties. Merrill even took people’s temperatures in the Villas for a few weeks.

With the vaccine, she hopes there’s an opportunity to get back to doing more of what she loves as both a director of rehabilitation and an occupational therapist.

“Being in a management position, it’s incumbent upon me to set an example, get the vaccine and show that it’s OK,” Merrill said. “I’m going to go ahead and get it, and just continue to go to work every day and have a positive attitude and a positive outlook about 2021. I need to set that example for the therapists.”

Orth said that the vaccine will not be mandatory for residents or employees, and that The Legacy is actively providing information to educate its residents and workers on the efficacy of the vaccines. In the past, when employees didn’t receive the flu shot, they were required to wear a mask during flu season.

But being among the first in the nation to receive it is a privilege. Willow Bend residents and employees will receive their first dose on Jan. 2; on Dec. 27 Jean marked another day off her calendar of waiting.

“I try not to wish my time away,” Weinfeld said. “I don’t want to wish my time away now, because it’s so valuable, but I’m having a hard time waiting. I keep thinking back to ‘The Christmas Story’: One more sleep till you get up and it’s Christmas. We have six more sleeps until we get up and we get our vaccine.”

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