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NY nears nursing home vaccine goal, but pace frustrates some

January 18, 2021 Marina Villenueve and Jennifer Peltz, Associated Press
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New York is getting closer to reaching a vital early goal of its coronavirus vaccine campaign: getting a first dose to every nursing home resident, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday. But the effort to protect those residents has unfolded more slowly than some administrators and relatives hoped.

Around 96 percent of the state’s nursing homes have been visited by one of the vaccination teams inoculating residents, according to state officials. 

There are 50 nursing homes and 23 senior assisted living facilities in Brooklyn, according to the Senior Advice website.

The federally run program to vaccinate nursing home residents and staff launched Dec. 21. As recently as Jan. 4, only 288 of the 611 facilities that signed up for the federal program had seen residents get their first visit from vaccination teams sent by private pharmacies, including CVS and Walgreens.

The total percentage of residents who have received a dose remained unclear Friday. Typically, every resident at a home would be offered a vaccine during a visit from a vaccination team, but state officials couldn’t say how many might have been missed, or declined the shots, during the first sweep.

Jeannie Wells hoped her 92-year-old mother would get the shot quickly at her facility in Rochester, and they would have a path toward seeing each other in person again for the first time since November.

Instead, it was Thursday by the time pharmacists made their first visit to the home, said Wells, a nurse and a member of a local advocacy group called the Elder Justice Committee of Metro Justice. It will be weeks before her mother gets her second dose of the vaccine.

“I would think that they should have been able to hit the ground running,” she said, adding that it was painful to lose precious time for potentially visiting her mother.

“There is no way for anyone to understand that when you’re losing a parent mentally to begin with, to lose that — to have those days taken away — there’s no way you can ever make up for that,” she said.

Stephen Hanse, president of statewide associations of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, said some New York nursing homes initially struggled to get a first shot scheduled with a partner pharmacy.

Cuomo initially announced Friday during a news conference that 96 percent of nursing home residents had been vaccinated, but his staff later said he misspoke and the figure referred to the percentage of nursing homes that had been visited by a vaccination team.

The state’s nursing homes have reported 1,470 COVID-19 deaths since Dec. 1.

Meanwhile, many assisted living homes, which tend to elders who require only a low level of medical care, are still waiting for their first vaccine clinic. The Empire State Association of Assisted Living said 21 out of 176 assisted living homes it surveyed recently said their first vaccine clinic wasn’t scheduled until February or March.

New York had initially intended to set aside its vaccine supply nearly exclusively for health care workers and long-term care residents, but has since expanded eligibility to more than 7 million state residents, including anyone age 65 or older.

Last week saw a mad scramble of people trying to get a limited number of appointments, and a rising tide of complaints of confusion about how to best get in line for the shots.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio warned again Friday that the city’s ability to schedule new vaccination appointments would likely be exhausted by this week, if supplies don’t increase.

State officials said 55,000 appointments available at the state’s newly opened vaccination center on Long Island’s Jones Beach were fully booked within two days.

“What you can’t get past, mathematically, is 7 million people chasing 300,000 doses,” Cuomo said.

Meanwhile, concerns remain about nursing home staff members who have declined to take the vaccine.

At Gurwin Jewish Nursing Home on Long Island, for instance, 88 percent of the roughly 350 residents had gotten at least the first shot as of Friday, the facility said.

But the 760 staffers have been far more reluctant: About 36 percent have gotten at least one shot, though that’s up from 20 percent when the vaccine was first offered last month.

“It’s a challenge,” CEO Stuart B. Almer said. “People are hesitant, and we understand the hesitancy.”

To try to turn the tide, Gurwin’s lobby screens are playing videos of staffers talking about their own experiences and reasons for getting vaccinated. Almer jumped on the public-address system the other day to encourage it and emphasize that he felt fine after his own shot.


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