Wilmington retirement community charters buses to vaccinate residents

Retirement community staff took extra steps to get vaccine for residents

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Two charter buses waited outside of the Woods at Holly Tree retirement community this morning for residents eager to get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The New Hanover County Health Department worked closely with the staff of the Woods at Holly Tree to allow the community to bring 45 of their 110 residents to get vaccinated this morning. Holiday Retirement, the parent company of the Woods at Holly Tree, has been securing vaccine appointments on behalf of their residents at many of their locations across the country.

“For the past ten months, I’ve been truly awestruck by the resilience, dedication, and adaptability of our residents, and we’re so grateful that they will be among the first group being vaccinated in this historic milestone and what hopefully will help end the pandemic,” said Lilly Donohue, CEO of Holiday Retirement.

Residents at the Woods at Holly Tree expressed their excitement for finally being able to get vaccinated. Although they live in an independent living community, social activities and interactions have been limited for almost a year due to the pandemic.

“I just like to get out and stroll through the town, browse in the stores — the things I used to do,” said Ben Smith, a 95-year-old Woods at Holly Tree resident.

Other residents spoke about their desire to return to normalcy.

“I’m glad to get this over with, so I’m hoping that it works,” said resident Frank Sancibrian.

For the staff at the Woods at Holly Tree, they have struggled to engage with their residents for the better part of a year. General Manager Perry Heyer said that while residents have still been able to see their loved ones, most day-to-day operations inside the community have changed.

“It’s been tough having to shut down dining rooms and anything that involves social interactions. It’s hard for all of us,” said Heyer.

Heyer contacted the New Hanover County Health Department to try and schedule appointments for all of his residents. Heyer and the staff at the Woods at Holly Tree will be vaccinated at a later date. He added that his focus was on getting his residents vaccinated first.

“One of the biggest things is this relieves the mental part of it,” said Heyer. “Just being vaccinated — it gives them a sigh of relief.”

New Hanover County Director of Health and Human Services Donna Fayko arranged for the elderly residents to be vaccinated today over the course of three hours. Heyer and his staff chartered two buses to transport residents to the HHS building for their appointments.

Fayko says she thinks the county’s vaccine rollout is going well and added that, although they are limited by supply, those vaccinated today will be able to return in a few weeks for their second dose, since the state reserves second dose allocations.

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