It feels like a miracle. Somehow you’ve managed through nine excruciatingly long months with almost no resident cases among 130 skilled nursing, assisted living, and memory care residents.
You get the call from your Administrator and sense the excitement in the tone of his voice. “Our first clinic just got confirmed, 6 days out on January 5!” You mobilize the local team and have multiple Webex calls with your home office, learning how your peer communities managed 300+ vaccinations in a one-day, 7-hour clinic. You’re determined to one-up them even if just by a dozen. You finish the planning call on New Year’s Eve with incredible team excitement about the clinic four days ahead.
Confusion — Frustration
You wait for the confirmation phone call but it doesn’t come. You reach out to the local pharmacy team assigned to your clinic and finish the call with mixed emotions, surprised at the lack of details and the number of people above them who make the decisions
You’re excited by the comment: “We have lots of vaccines, you tell us how many you need.”
Then a confusing string of emails comes through. You call the pharmacy back on New Year’s Day only to hear the bad news. Your assisted living clinic has been reassigned a different team and your new clinic date is two more weeks out.
Frustration, disappointment, anger. Why does this have to be so disorganized? Why are there so many people involved and lack of clarity over who does what? Why doesn’t our national account person step in to fix this? As a confession, my first draft of this article was a little different based on my initial emotional reaction — to throw stones at a company partner that is working hard and doing their best at a monumental task that’s really never been done before.
To quote my boss and my wife, “COVID sucks!” This whole situation is unfortunate and isn’t really anyone’s fault (other than the guy who supposedly ate a bat, as my kids like to point out). I fired off a slightly angry email. But I calmed down when our vaccine partner called me on my cell phone on Saturday, January 2. “We’ll make it up to you. Can we expand the Skilled Nursing Clinic on January 11 and try to do the whole building on one day? 400 Vaccines in one clinic? Yes, that will take 8 immunizers, 2 techs and a manager but we will make it happen.”
I realize now that the challenge of optimizing vaccine distribution exists at every level – national, state, regional, and communities. On the national level, states didn’t get exactly what they were promised. Our state confused things last week by announcing that all Coloradans over 70 and teachers were now in the current phase 1b distribution group.
Then they backtracked essentially saying, “Well, after the ‘above the line’ Phase 1b healthcare workers which we’re not done with yet.” Then at a regional level, someone has to go first and someone has to go last. It initially felt like we got the short straw, but if we can do Assisted Living, Memory care and Skilled Nursing in one day, maybe not.
My Turn to be the Target of Frustration. . .
Soon, it’s time to plan the distribution for our Independent Living (IL) residents. We probably can’t do 1,500 IL residents and 400 employees one day. Getting back-to-back clinics is not likely, unless we want to go last. How do we prioritize and schedule the residents in multiple buildings over several days or weeks? Suddenly I can empathize with CVS and Walgreens. Fortunately a live poll on our TV program today (using Mentimeter.com) showed that 64% of the 150+ residents said they’d be willing to wait until week 2 or 3.
We’ve all learned that flexibility and adaptability is the name of the COVID game.
Look for Creative Solutions . . .
While all this was going on, one local hospital reached out to say they had extra vaccines and any of our community employees could sign up for one of their clinics. We shared this and quickly about 30 employees responded signing up. I did too and got the Moderna vaccine this evening. Our other primary local hospital already has conducted pilot clinics, randomly inviting 70+ users who had their portal to get vaccinated as a test for future community clinics.
Predictions for the Future. . .
My prediction is that vaccine clinics will repeat what we all experienced with testing. Within weeks, or even days, our industry will go from having only two options to multiple options. In many states, it’s very likely that some residents will be vaccinated at the local hospital or through a local community clinic before CVS and Walgreens are ready to transition to independent living. Since the goal is to get as many residents and employees of senior living communities vaccinated as quickly as possible, we need to be creative and flexible. Most important, we need to stay calm, not have flippant emotional reactions to things that our outside of our control, and continue to lead our teams and communities through the brighter days ahead.