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COVID-19 vaccine distribution welcomed in Bucks, Montco nursing homes

Jo Ciavaglia
Bucks County Courier Times
Ken Barton, a resident at Wesley Enhanced Living Doylestown receiving the first dose of his COVID-19 vaccine.

At Wesley Enhanced Living Doylestown, the first round of COVID-19 vaccines last week was an emotional moment.

“I cried, and other nurses were teary eyed,” said Maureen Casey, executive director of the 60-bed skilled nursing home where 13 residents have died after testing positive for the virus as of Dec. 29, according to state data.  

Casey described the mood at the vaccine clinic on Dec. 30 as filled with positive energy and hopefulness. 

Similar sentiments were echoed as vaccine rollouts began in Pennsylvania nursing homes, which are the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic here and nationwide.

Last week vaccinations kicked off in the 693 Pennsylvania licensed nursing homes, according to the state. As of Wednesday, 378 nursing homes started or scheduled clinics including 11 of 32 facilities in Bucks and half the 60 in Montgomery counties. 

Nearly 55,000 long-term care residents have tested positive for the virus, according to state data released Wednesday. More than 9,000 of the 16,456 deaths — 55% — in Pennsylvania have been among long-term care residents.  

Long-term care employees account for a little under half — 46% — of the 19,731 Pennsylvania health care workers who’ve tested positive for COVID-19.

The Pennsylvania Health Department last week launched the federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care program, which is administering COVID-19 vaccines at long-term care facilities. 

More:Pennsylvania's vaccine rollout continues. It's been slow, but here's what you need to know.

Clinics started last week with CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens providing staffing and vaccines.  The vaccines are provided at no-cost to facilities through Operation Warp Speed, the federal pharmacy partnership program to deliver the vaccine. 

The Pennsylvania Health Care Association, which represents long-term care provider interests, questioned why no nursing home providers received the vaccine until Dec. 28 when other states began distribution earlier. 

Distribution must be expedited, and long-term care must be the priority, Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the PHCA said.

"Every day without a vaccine is one more day in which we risk the lives of our most vulnerable residents and their providers of care,” Shamberg said. “We continue to call on state and federal partners for prioritization, especially as it relates to the vaccine, to ensure providers have access to critical resources to effectively mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in their facilities."

Genesis HealthCare started the first round of vaccines last week in most of the eight private skilled nursing facilities in Bucks and Montgomery counties it operates. The health care company also oversees the Bucks County-owned Neshaminy Manor Nursing Home in Warrington.

“This is unquestionably the biggest vaccination effort ever undertaken and will help prevent further tragedies, especially in this vulnerable population,” said Genesis  Chief Medical Officer Dr. Richard Feifer in an email.

More:Pa hospitals report few side effects in first employees vaccinated against COVID-19

Genesis is participating in a newly developed safety program with Brown University School of Public Health researchers, to monitor for any potential adverse health impacts after nursing home residents in its affiliated centers receive COVID-19 vaccinations. The work is part of a CDC effort to  monitor vaccine safety, particularly focused on frail elderly residents who were not included in vaccine trials.

So far, Genesis has observed minimal side effects with the first dose, Feifer said. The vaccine trial outcomes found side effects were more pronounced after the second dose.

Neshaminy Manor, the county's largest nursing home, began its distribution of vaccine on Monday and finished Wednesday,  Walgreen's employees administered the first dose of the Pfizer-BioTech vaccine to a little under half of the 492 employees and 95% of the 304 residents, county spokesman Larry King said. 

William Maas, 81, was the first person to receive his COVID-19 vaccination administered at Saucon Valley Manor in Hellertown on Jan. 6, 2020. “It’s very important to get the vaccine, for me,” the retired mailman and dedicated blood donor said.

HRC ManorCare also started distributing vaccines in five skilled-nursing homes in Bucks and Montgomery counties this week, spokeswoman Julie Beckert said.

Roughly 65% of the 483 residents in four of the five facilities were vaccinated in round one, according to data Beckert provided.  Vaccine numbers were not available Wednesday for the King of Prussia location, Beckert said. 

HRC ManorCare is striving to have half of its facility employees vaccinated with the first distribution and spreading out the rest over the remaining clinics to reduce staffing shortages due to side effects, Beckert added.

The  vaccinations have been cause for celebration. Even the Hatboro mayor was present at Luther Woods Nursing and Rehab Center for the start of its vaccine distribution on Sunday.

More than 100 of the 120 residents and 80 of the 145 staff members received the first of the two dose vaccine, Director of Admissions Josh Loss said.

As of last week, 22 Luther Woods residents and eight staff have tested positive for COVID-19, and five residents have died, according to state data. But the facility has been COVID-free since June, Loss said.

“The vaccine strengthens our resolve to remain a COVID-free community.  This is the first step towards moving past the pandemic and getting back to normal for our staff and residents.”

Back at Wesley Enhanced Living Doylestown, all 43 residents took the vaccine in the first round and about 100 staff members, Casey said. 

“They were excited to be able to get vaccinated,” she added.

After the first clinic, CVS or Walgreens will return in 21 days to administer the second booster shots for those who received the vaccine in round one and will also vaccinate anyone not included in round one.  A third-round of vaccines will take place three weeks later for final booster shots. 

Vaccine distribution in other congregate care facilities including personal care and assisted living, residential facilities for people with disabilities, community group homes will start after skilled nursing homes are completed.

More:With COVID-19 vaccine rollout, another reckoning with racism in American medicine

Most nursing homes are using the federal pharmacy partnership to complete vaccinations, according to state health officials.  

Another 89 facilities have opted to pursue other avenues for obtaining and delivering vaccines, according to the state.  

In some cases, facilities may have other pharmacy partnerships in place, a state health spokeswoman Rachel Kostelac said. The state has established COVID vaccine partnerships for more than 60 of the 89 facilities, Kostelac added. 

Philadelphia Department of Public Health is receiving its own allocations of vaccines from the federal government and is operating separately from the state efforts.

Pennsylvania hospital employees, which are also in the first phase of vaccine distribution , began administering the first dose of shots last month.

Andre Ellis a Wesley Enhanced Living Doylestown housekeeping employee receives the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine recently.