NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) - Long term care facilities in North Carolina have been ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.
Of the state’s nearly 6,300 COVID-19 deaths, 47.7% can be linked to long term care facilities such as nursing homes and residential care centers.
“As we continue to see more and more community spread in North Carolina, particularly in this last one and a half to two months, it has been particularly challenging for long term care facilities,” said Adam Sholar, president of the North Carolina Healthcare Facilities Association, a trade group that represents a vast majority of these kinds of facility in the state.
Patients at long term care facilities are extremely vulnerable, Sholar said, because many are older and have significant underlying health conditions that put them at risk.
That’s why as part of North Carolina’s first phase of vaccine roll out, both the staff and patients at these facilities will be getting some of the first doses.
Starting Monday, Dec. 28, CVS and Walgreens will work through a federal framework to distribute doses of the Moderna vaccine, allocated by the state, through vaccination clinics at care facilities across the state.
“We expect skilled nursing facilities to go first, primarily the week of the 28th,” Sholar said, “and then assisted living facilities after that.”
The doses will go out in three “waves” of clinics, with the pharmacies setting up the second and third visits 28 days after the first to accommodate for Moderna’s required booster.
As in hospitals, the vaccine is not mandatory in these facilities, at least in terms of state mandates, so how many vaccines are given over the next several weeks will largely depend on the uptake trends among staff and patients.
“I think the biggest [question] is probably, you know, ‘What is the percentage of residents and staff members who elect to take the vaccine?’”, Sholar said. “It’s..it’s being prioritized to be made available, but still, it’s each individual’s choice to take it.”
And the association and its member organizations are having to fight a good bit of misinformation and distrust, he said.
“It’s unfortunate, but [we are] trying to dispel some of the myths and rumors that are out there, right, about about the vaccine,” he said. “I think that will be a particular challenge in this setting.”
Additionally, many patients in these settings don’t make their own medical decisions, so facilities will have to get consent from family members, guardians or powers of attorney in order to vaccinate them, which could slow things down.
Still, Sholar said they are glad the industry is being prioritized, not only to protect patients, but to help make sure staff are able to come to work safely.
“Reducing the number of individuals working in long-term care who contract COVID not only is obviously beneficial for each individual employee’s health, but also to make sure that there are an adequate number of caregivers to provide care to those who need it,” he said.
He said the vaccine is a glimmer of hope after a long, dark year, but he wanted to emphasize that communities across the state need to come together to reduce community spread in order to give the vaccine a fighting chance.
“The arrival of a vaccine gives a great deal of hope. But, you know, I do believe that the next few months are still going to be quite a challenge.”
“I think that it is absolutely appropriate that we as a society rally around our long-term health care workers and those receiving care in skilled nursing facilities.”