Nursing home staff receives COVID vaccine

LPN Jennifer Hroncich gives health care worker Kolubah Goniah the COVID-19 vaccine at Genesis HealthCare in Dover on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — For each shot administered outside the Silver Lake Center in Dover, a Genesis HealthCare affiliated nursing home, the staff broke into a round of applause and flashed the thumbs-up sign.

The nursing home was one of the first in the country to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The first shots to nursing home staff in Delaware were given out at the Dover location just after 11 a.m. on Thursday.

“We’ve been on the defensive,” said the center’s Executive Director Warren Burke, who received the vaccine first. “Now, we’re on offense.”

Genesis received COVID-19 vaccine doses from the Delaware Division of Public Health to distribute to its three downstate facilities in Dover, Milford and Seaford. All three locations began vaccinating staff on Thursday.

Residents will be able to begin receiving the vaccine the week of Dec. 28, as part of vaccination efforts under the federal pharmacy program. Walgreens and CVS pharmacists are partnering with facilities to vaccinate residents.

Genesis has partnered with CVS to vaccinate its residents and expects that to start in the beginning of January.

While the vaccine is shipped directly to the pharmacies from the federal level, doses come out of each state’s total allocation, according to information provided by the DPH.

Delaware long-term care centers have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, accounting for 461 of the state’s 845 COVID-19 related deaths (54.5%). The DPH announced 12 new COVID-19 related deaths in its daily report on Thursday and six of the 12 were long-term care residents. All numbers via the DPH reflect data as of Wednesday at 6 p.m.

Genesis Chief Nursing Officer Dr. JoAnne Reifsnyder called the moment she received the vaccine, “a privilege I will take with me for the rest of my life.”

“The last nine months have been unimaginable and we have done everything in our power, used every tool at our disposal to fight this virus,” Dr. Reifsnyder said in her remarks to those gathered. “I breathe a sigh of relief today, but I also know our fight against this deadly virus is far from over. We will continue to operate with extreme vigilance and with the vaccine supplementing PPE, testing and the proven health protocols we put in place to mitigate spread at our facilities and above all keep our residents safe.”

Kolubah Goniah, a Registered Nurse at Silver Lake Center, was the second member of the staff who was vaccinated. Mr. Goniah said he was confident the vaccine was safe due to the amount of science and research which went into developing.

“This is what we’ve been waiting for,” Mr. Goniah said. “This is a huge relief and a ray of light.”

Long-term care centers are in the state’s Phase 1A group of its three-tiered approach to vaccine distribution. Those vaccinated on Thursday were among the first in the state to receive the vaccine after the state vaccinated its first group of front-line medical workers on Tuesday and received 7,800 additional doses on Wednesday at the DPH’s Kent County warehouse.

Phase 1A includes health care personnel, emergency medical services agencies, and long-term care staff and residents.

Long-term care center have been affected in multiple ways due to the pandemic. A recently conducted survey of nursing home providers by the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living produced findings such as:

• Two-thirds (66%) of nursing homes say they won’t make it another year given current operating pace due to increased COVID costs.

• 90% of nursing homes are currently operating at a profit margin of 3% or less. (65% of nursing homes are currently operating at a loss).

• Staffing has been the top cost in response to COVID with nine out of 10 nursing homes hiring additional staff and/or paying staff overtime.

• 58% of nursing homes said additional staff pay and hiring new staff were their top cost incurred due to COVID.

• 70% of nursing homes have hired additional staff and nine out of 10 have asked current staff to work overtime and provided hero pay.

DPH Director Dr. Karyl Rattay, who was at the Kent County warehouse to receive the vaccine shipment Wednesday, said she was grateful Delaware can start the process of vaccinating everyone in long-term care centers.

“Since March, many of us have not been able to visit with our parents and grandparents as we have tried to protect them from the virus, the only tools available to us masks and social distancing,” said Dr. Rattay. “This vaccine not only offers our seniors and long-term staff protection from the virus, it gives us hope that one day soon we will be able to visit with our loved ones again. It also means more of us will be here to celebrate the holidays next year.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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