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Lancaster County nursing homes begin COVID vaccinations: ‘This means now we have a ray of hope’

Moniqua Acosta, Landis Homes' director of volunteer services

Moniqua Acosta, Landis Homes' director of volunteer services, is among roughly 150 nursing home staff in Manheim Borough to receive the COVID vaccine on Monday, Dec. 28, 2020.

Roughly two weeks ago, Ron Geib buried his 84-year-old father after 12 days on a ventilator struggling to breathe with COVID-19. On Monday, Geib rolled up his sleeve to get the COVID vaccination.

“I’m just so eager to do whatever I can do to help stem the spread of the virus before more families lose loved ones,” said Geib, a 60-year-old Landis Homes maintenance worker who was among the first nursing home staff and residents across Pennsylvania to begin receiving the vaccine on Monday.

Geib, who lives in Manheim Borough, added, “I would encourage others to get the vaccine as part of that effort.”

Located in Manheim Township, Landis Homes is a nonprofit, 103-bed nursing home affiliate of Landis Communities, which in addition to the home operates a personal care home, senior apartments and retirement communities.

About 80% of eligible Landis residents are opting to get the vaccine, said Michelle Rassler, executive director of Landis Homes.

"This means now we have a ray of hope," Rassler said.

Landis Homes expected to vaccinate more than 150 employees and roughly 65 residents Monday, said Beth Trout, a company spokeswoman.

While individuals in congregant settings have been prioritized in the vaccine rollout, only nursing home residents and staff are getting inoculated this week, Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said in a Monday press conference.

Roughly 120 nursing homes across the state are expected to receive vaccines from CVS and six from Walgreens, Levine said.

“We’re trying to prevent the surge in January,” Levine said, referring to an anticipated rise in COVID-19 infections following the Christmas holiday.

‘I have trust in the vaccine’

Moniqua Acosta, director of volunteer services at Landis Homes, also volunteered for the COVID-19 vaccine Monday.

The way Acosta sees it, vaccinating nursing home staff is a crucial step in ending the pandemic because the virus comes into facilities from the outside. And as a member of the one of the communities hard hit by the virus, Acosta, too, believes confidence needs to be modeled.

“While there is a sense of hesitancy that I understand and know the history of violated trust for people of color, I have trust in the vaccine,” Acosta said.

The first nursing home vaccinations Monday came as Lancaster County inched closer to a grim milestone: 700 COVID-related deaths since the virus invaded Pennsylvania nine months ago.

Getting information about vaccine distribution has been challenging.

Douglas Motter called the rollout frustrating.

Motter is president of Homestead Village, a continuing care retirement community that offers skilled nursing and personal care to roughly 500 residents in Lancaster. The majority of Homestead residents are 65 years and older, the demographic most likely to be severely sickened and die when infected by COVID-19.

Most residents, Motter said, “want the vaccine as soon as possible.”

What Motter finds so exasperating, he said, is the dearth of information about the vaccine distribution.

“Others have heard nothing; some have been told their dates have been moved from early January to early February,” Motter told LNP | LancasterOnline.

While Homestead Village does not yet have a vaccine date, Motter said he expects to be inoculating residents in late January or early February.

“We don’t know,” Motter said. “That is the point.”

‘Front of the line’

CVS and Walgreens are vaccinating nursing home residents and staff in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Media representatives with the pharmacy chains referred questions to the state Health Department, which referred LNP | LancasterOnline to the CDC, which referred the newspaper back to the state.

State data released Monday afternoon on the distribution to nursing homes was incomplete and didn’t show the vaccinations at Landis Homes.

Still, fewer than one in five Pennsylvania nursing homes in at least 38 counties — including seven in Lancaster County — are expected to inoculate residents and staff against COVID-19 over the next three days.

Among the five counties neighboring Lancaster County, only York and Lebanon nursing homes are vaccinating this week.

The novel coronavirus has been particularly brutal to long-term care residents, who have borne the brunt of the pandemic. While they account for about 8% of all COVID cases, they represent 56% of the fatalities, state data shows.

Most of the hospitalized COVID patients in Pennsylvania are 65 and older. This demographic also accounts for the bulk of the deaths.

Given that the state shuttered the economy in the spring to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with COVID patients, Homestead Village’s Motter said the vaccination priorities do not align with the data.

“Shouldn’t older adults be at the front of the line for the vaccine?” Motter said.

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