COVID vaccinations ramp up in Minn. long-term care

Staff and residents get their first doses

Man gets a vaccine shot in his left arm
Steve Rosenow, a nurse specialist with the Ridges Ebenezer Care Center in Burnsville, Minn., receives his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Monday at the center. His coworkers cheered him after he got his shot.
Peter Cox | MPR News

After many dark months of illness, isolation and death, hope arrived Monday morning at Ebenezer Ridges Care Center in Burnsville, Minn., in a blue igloo cooler.

Nurse Steve Rosenow was the first to sit down in the center’s chapel to get a dose of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, as a line of his coworkers watched from the lobby. A nurse poked a needle into a vial of the vaccine just out of the cooler, and stuck it into Rosenow’s upper arm, as those around him cheered.

As Rosenow waited to make sure he didn’t have an allergic reaction to the first of two shots that should protect him against COVID-19, he reflected on the weight of the last nine months.

“There's really been no time to breathe,” he said. “It's just constant. there really hasn't been any breaks with this.”

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Rosenow texted his wife after his vaccination, and smiled and clapped as his co-workers got their shots.

”It just feels good. It’s like, finally something good.”

The virus has been especially deadly and severe in skilled nursing homes where people need around-the-clock care. Approximately 65 percent of all deaths from COVID-19 are of residents of long-term care facilities, which include nursing homes.

Because of that, there are very tight restrictions on visiting and even gatherings within the homes. 

”I'm anxious for it to come and do us good. We have, we've had enough bad things this year,” said Delores Howard, who lives at Ebenezer Ridges Care Center. She and other residents were set to get their first doses Monday afternoon.

Howard likes being able to talk to her family every day by phone or video, but she misses going out to lunch with her daughter or having visitors come in.

”I want things to turn around. So we can all be together. We can all eat together and enjoy one another,” she said.

A woman sits in a wheelchair
Delores Howard, a resident at Ebenezer Ridges Care Center in Burnsville, talks before going to get her vaccine for COVID-19 on Monday. Howard said she's looking forward to getting the vaccine and to being able to see her family again.
Peter Cox | MPR News

The next type of long-term care, assisted living facilities won’t be far behind in getting vaccines. They’ll likely receive first doses starting in mid-January.

George Kinney Jr.’s 96-year-old mother, Bunny, has been in an assisted living facility in Bayport, Minn., since August. Kinney and his sister are essential caregivers for her, so they’re able to visit once a week.

“There's some comfort that if she can get the vaccination, hopefully we can prolong her life. She has a good quality of life at this point ... clearly it would be advantageous for her to to get the vaccination to protect her as well as to protect the other residents of the facility and the employees of the facility,” Kinney said.

Two people wearing face masks hug.
George Kinney Jr. hugs his mom Bunny on at Croixdale in Bayport. During the pandemic, Kinney Jr. and his sister have taken turns visiting their mom at the assisted living facility, where she has lived since this summer.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

His mother said she’s looking forward to getting the vaccine and having some normalcy after months of restrictions.

For Barbara Klick, vaccinations represent a bright spot in a terrible year. Klick is the CEO of Sholom Community Alliance, which runs two campuses that serve the continuum of senior care. 

Early in the pandemic, they had an outbreak of cases in one of their memory care facilities.

”Every life that we lose is precious, and you know, these people become our extended family. So it's really hard on all of us on so many levels,” Klick said.

Shalom reached a particularly difficult point when they lost a beloved staff member in May.

“We knew people who are elderly with co-morbidity could get the COVID and die but now one of their own died and now you know that mortality gets a lot closer to you. So I think that was really the hardest point,” she said.

Klick said COVID-19 has made her workplace much too quiet, with few visitors and limited activities. She’s hoping a vaccine coming in January, will begin to bring back the music, more visitors, including dogs, and games.

“We certainly do have essential caregivers and compassionate givers that can come. But we would like to do more. Obviously, it's just been way too long,” she said.