The start of the new year came with new hope, as coronavirus vaccinations began at two local Jewish elder care providers: Chelsea Jewish Lifecare and Hebrew SeniorLife.
For both organizations, the first vaccinations were administered on Dec. 29. At Chelsea Jewish Lifecare, they were given at the Jeffrey and Susan Brudnick Center for Living in Peabody, while for Hebrew SeniorLife, they took place at the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center in Roslindale.
“The first day went very, very well,” Chelsea Jewish Lifecare President Adam Berman said.
Vaccinations at nursing homes and assisted living centers are being administered through an initiative called the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program. Medical professionals vaccinate residents, as well as staff. In Massachusetts, CVS and Walgreens are administering the vaccinations at nursing homes, assisted living centers and long-term care facilities, according to conversations with Chelsea Jewish Lifecare and Hebrew SeniorLife. Chelsea Jewish Lifecare is using the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine while Hebrew SeniorLife is using both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Berman said “nursing home residents and staff are at the top of the list” for vaccinations, with assisted-living centers close behind.
“They really have prioritized nursing homes and assisted living,” he said. “We’re seeing that in the schedule. As an organization, our primary mission is to take care of people of older age. “We’ve seen how the virus can spread in some of the settings … It’s a time of challenge like no other.”
At the Brudnick Center, CVS vaccinated several hundred people over an entire day. “It was well-organized, well-managed,” Berman said.
Mary Moscato, president of Hebrew SeniorLife Health Care Services and Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, had similar praise for the vaccinations of approximately 140 people at the Roslindale facility the same day. “We had a wonderful turnout from our staff,” she said. Hebrew SeniorLife is a provider of long-term chronic care as well as housing.
The vaccination clinics were the first step in an extensive process. Vaccinations were scheduled to continue for both organizations at some of their other locations. Hebrew SeniorLife, for example, had scheduled a clinic Jan. 2 at its NewBridge on the Charles facility in Dedham.
Those who got vaccinated at the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center in Roslindale Dec. 29 will receive their second dose on Jan. 19. Those who were vaccinated at NewBridge on the Charles will be revisited on Jan. 22.
Chelsea Jewish Lifecare scheduled three visits for its locations to account for residents and staff members who may have been unable to attend one of the visits. All dates are spaced three weeks apart.
“This is a significant amount of logistics,” Moscato said. “It’s unprecedented. We’ve never been through this type of procedure.”
Vaccinations are voluntary at both Chelsea Jewish Lifecare and Hebrew SeniorLife. Yet, Moscato and Berman said in separate interviews, they have ambitious hopes for the number of people who will get vaccinated.
“We’ll try to vaccinate as many [of] the staff and residents as we can,” Berman said.
“Our ultimate goal is all staff, all seniors,” Moscato said. “We’re going to reach for that. We’ll keep advocating for the vaccine and reach out to the best ability we can.”
Chelsea Jewish Lifecare has around 1,200 residents and 2,000 employees at its facilities, while Hebrew SeniorLife has about 3,000 seniors and 2,600 employees. Each organization has multiple campuses, with Chelsea Jewish Lifecare extending to Western Massachusetts with a facility in the Springfield area.
Both Chelsea Jewish Lifecare and Hebrew SeniorLife have firsthand experience with the impact of the pandemic on elderly populations in community living settings, including during the surge in Massachusetts this past spring.
Berman recalled writing a letter to the Chelsea Jewish Lifecare community in April that stated 11 people had died from the virus. He said that the letter was “very difficult to write.”
During the spring surge, the media reported on over 100 deaths at Hebrew SeniorLife facilities.
“None of us would deny that April and May was a devastating time,” Moscato said. “The pandemic really emerged in senior care campuses across the state, Hebrew SeniorLife included.”
She said that since then, Hebrew SeniorLife received crucial supplies of PPE and implemented a COVID-19 testing system the first week of August.
“Those two alone added great confidence in terms of protecting our staff, patients, and residents,” Moscato said. “We were one of the first to receive the vaccine on [Dec. 29[, another confidence-builder.”
“Patients, residents, staff – everyone fought to overcome the experience of April and May,” she said. “There is a new spirit, with protection, testing, and a vaccine now.”