Less than a year ago, the senior living industry stood at the precipice of Covid-19. Now, the industry is on the cusp of another potentially seismic event: the deployment of an effective vaccine.
The vaccine will reach senior living communities at different rates across the United States, depending on factors such as how quickly states were able to coordinate with pharmaceutical companies. But, the first vaccine clinics in senior living communities have started to occur, including at communities operated by two of the largest providers: Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD) and Atria Senior Living.
Brookdale and Atria residents and associates have received their first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine manufactured by drugmaker Pfizer and its partner BioNTech. Brookdale held its first clinic Friday at a community in Charleston, West Virginia; while Atria’s first clinic occurred Monday at a community in Louisville, Kentucky.
Both Atria and Brookdale worked with CVS Health (NYSE: CVS) and its partner Omnicare as part of the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program. Brentwood, Tennessee-based Brookdale has 726 communities through the U.S., while Louisville, Kentucky-based Atria operates more than 200 communities across the United States and Canada.
Among the first to roll up their sleeves at Atria was CEO John Moore. It was significant that Atria was able to begin vaccinating its residents and staff on Monday, Moore told Senior Housing News. That’s because Dec. 21 is this year’s winter solstice, the time of year when the days begin to grow longer.
“Let’s hope that this is nature getting ready to tell us to come out of the winter of this disease and move forward,” he said.
Vaccine rollout begins
Brookdale and Atria — the No. 1 and No. 7 largest providers in the nation according to Argentum — are gearing up for the monumental task of holding vaccine clinics across all of their communities.
Atria delivered about 100 doses of the vaccine at Atria Springdale in Louisville, inoculating virtually all of the community’s residents. By early January, the provider expects to have held clinics for six communities in Kentucky, including two in the Cincinnati metro area.
Brookdale, meanwhile, held a “Covid vaccine party” in the dining area of its Brookdale Charleston Gardens community on Friday. Brookdale associates treated participating residents to snowball fights, cake, candy canes, stickers and Christmas music as they received their shots. Leaders with the company had also worked in the preceding weeks to “create a culture of vaccine acceptance.”
The keys to a successful vaccine clinic are communicating and completing necessary paperwork early — and making it fun, according to Donna Prowse, executive director at Brookdale Charleston Gardens.
Atria and Brookdale weren’t the only senior living providers touting recent Covid-19 vaccine clinics. Milwaukie, Oregon-based Marquis Companies also held its first vaccine clinic Monday with the help of its in-house pharmacy partner, Consonus Pharmacy. Marquis operates 23 senior care facilities across the country. The company also owns Consonus Pharmacy, which provides services to about 600 skilled nursing and senior living communities in eight states.
Consonus administered the vaccine Monday to more than 800 residents and staff at seven facilities in Oregon, Washington and Nevada, including some outside of the Marquis umbrella. The initial rollout involved renting 15 motorhomes and staffing them with three associates: one person to manage the vaccine doses, another to handle information and a third to drive the vehicle itself. And the company had planned for weeks before that by building a system to collect and export vaccine-related data.
Seeing the first doses administered Monday was “incredibly emotional,” according to Marquis CEO Phil Fogg, Jr.
“To see those first vaccines get administered is incredible,” Fogg told SHN. “You have hope that there will be an end to this nightmare.”
Overall, Fogg says there has been good adoption among residents in consenting to take the Covid-19 vaccine. He also estimates that about 73% of the company’s associates had consented to receiving the vaccine. But Fogg believes that more people will choose to get vaccinated once they see the process is safe, and as public health efforts kick into gear.
“Consent rates are at risk for being lower because people want to see what happens with it,” Fogg said. “I also think that the federal government is going to get pretty aggressive very quickly in supporting the vaccine with public service announcements and other things.”
In the coming weeks, each Marquis community is slated to hold three on-site clinic visits with Consonus. And Fogg is hopeful that the vaccinations are the first step in the long road to recovery for the industry and the country.
At Atria, Moore gave credit to the state of Kentucky for activating a plan that allowed CVS to begin its vaccination clinics as early as possible. But providers in other states have not been as lucky. New Jersey, for instance, missed a federal deadline for distributing the vaccine in nursing homes, pushing the state’s initial vaccine rollout to the week of Dec. 28.
Moore also credited Atria’s “Sleeve Up” education campaign and other informative measures for helping achieve widespread vaccine acceptance among the residents and associates at Atria’s communities. At Atria Springdale, “virtually all of the residents had gone through the consent process,” Moore said.
CVS called Atria last Friday to set up Monday’s clinic. Though it was short notice, Moore said Atria had prepared for the moment ahead of time and was ready to go when the call came in.
“We’ve been talking to the states the best we can to know everything there is to know, and to lobby for senior housing,” Moore said. “We spent a lot of time thinking about and getting ready for helping people with the consent [form], learning how to use the CVS portal, and making sure we have our own trackers.”
Some in the senior living industry have worried that vaccination efforts could be hamstrung by mistrust in the vaccine itself or limited supplies. But a smooth initial rollout and high rate of participation among staff and residents in the early days could bode well for the massive vaccination effort set to occur across the industry in the coming weeks and months.
Even before the vaccine arrived in its communities, Atria was moving on all cylinders when it came to Covid-19 testing. Thanks to partnership with Mayo Clinic Labs, which is part of Rochester, Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic, the company has been able to administer about 12,000 Covid-19 tests this week alone. If that pace holds, Atria is on track to hit 200,000 tests administered by the end of the year, Moore said.
Atria is scheduling its second vaccine clinics for communities which have already held their first. For Atria Springdale, that day is January 11. Once a community has held its vaccination clinics, Atria will then shift it into a “Covid watch posture,” under which the company will still monitor for new symptoms and adhere to federal, state and local Covid-19 requirements, but also seek to reopen community spaces at half capacity. That includes letting groups of up to 15 people gather in dining and common spaces.
Looking ahead, Moore expects Atria will be busy planning and preparing for more vaccine clinics at its communities as states across the U.S. receive more doses.
“We’re looking forward to being swamped,” Moore said. “It’s going to be a busy few holiday weeks for us, and we couldn’t be more excited about it.”