As coronavirus cases at Risen Son Christian Village continued surging throughout late fall, facility Executive Director Matt Romshek said his staff did its best to weather the storm by following CDC and state guidelines and praying for better times ahead.
Morale tides started shifting — at least slightly — in November, Romshek said, when it was announced that at least one pharmaceutical company had ready a vaccine set for approval through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Now, the majority of residents encompassing the long-term care facility’s skilled-nursing segment — and several staff — have received the first wave of the vaccine. The second required vaccination round is scheduled for Jan. 18.
“It definitely gives us more peace of mind,” Romshek said of the vaccine becoming readily available to residents. “We are still being vigilant on our infection control protocol, but it does provide a bit of light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, so to speak, and we are just thankful that residents and staff members continue to choose to be vaccinated.”
Community Pharmacy, Walgreens and CVS are the three operations distributing the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. A CVS spokeswoman during an interview with the Lee Des Moines Bureau this week said the company expects to reach nearly 50,000 individuals in 486 skilled nursing and assisted living facilities in Iowa, and that its program — including follow-up visits for the second dose of the vaccines, which are required three or four weeks after the first shot, depending on the variation — should be completed in roughly three months.
A Walgreens spokeswoman at the time said the company isn’t providing state-specific data.
During the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, long-term care facilities have been decimated with sweeping cases and deaths associated with coronavirus complications. In Pottawattamie County, Risen Son and Bethany Lutheran Home are currently experiencing outbreaks.
Data from state’s COVID-19 tracking site shows that there have been 92 cases of coronavirus at Risen Son, with 81 recoveries. At Bethany Lutheran, there have been 74 cases with 63 recoveries, as of Friday afternoon.
Statewide as of Friday, the state site showed 92 current COVID outbreaks statewide at long-term care facilities, affecting 2,243 residents and resulting in 1,679 deaths.
Both operations, however, appear to be finding success with mitigating the spread and flattening the curve. State data shows that the Bethany Lutheran added two positive cases during the past two weeks, and Risen Son, zero.
“It has certainly flattened out,” Romshek said of positive cases. “… Our case counts have dropped considerably in the past couple months.”
Also reaping the benefits of the access to the vaccine is Council Bluffs assisted-living facility The Heritage at Fox Run.
During an interview with the Nonpareil, Fox Run Executive Director Don Ridder said — just like Risen Son — that residents are slated to receive the second wave of injections this month after receiving the first dose in December. In total, 55 of 57 current residents elected to receive the vaccine. The two not receiving the first injection are scheduled to receive their initial dose when other residents get their second.
“One was just moving in during that day, and the other one had some underlying issues — they weren’t prepared to get it done then,” he said of the two residents waiting to receive their first dose.
Any incoming residents following the upcoming scheduled vaccination will have another opportunity to receive on Feb. 11, he added.
Access to the vaccine has enabled Ridder and his staff to exhale just a bit, he said. Residents’ families have slowly started visits again, adhering to facility, state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols to ensure everyone’s safety.
It also is promising because it potentially means less hiccups in terms of opening 60 new independent-living apartments, as well as 18 apartments exclusively used for memory care patients, on April 15.
Though Fox Run has been fortunate in regard to facility COVID numbers — four residents and a handful of staff contracted at one point — Ridder said the vaccine is a game changer.
There haven’t been any serious adverse side effects and spirits are raised. Better days feel imminent, he said.
“It’s been such a dark 11 months for the entire world, and this is like the first big step in the other direction,” he said. “There’s adrenaline, excitement, it’s an opportunity for us to do what we work for every day, and that is keeping our residents safe.”