Shut Out of Federal Covid-19 Vaccine Program, Holiday Retirement Builds Its Own Network

In late December, many senior living providers began holding or scheduling their first vaccine clinics. But for most of Holiday Retirement’s senior living communities, that wasn’t the case.

With 252 independent living communities and seven assisted living communities across the U.S., the Winter Park, Florida-based operator is among the largest in the country, and No. 3 in Argentum’s 2020 Largest Providers Report. But that scale didn’t translate into vaccine clinics for most of those communities for one big reason: independent living was left out of the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program, which only prioritizes nursing homes and assisted living communities for vaccine distribution.

Holiday had first sought to participate in the program with pharmacy partner CVS, and Chief People Officer Karen Sheean expected the process to work similar to a flu shot clinic. But the company was informed in late December that independent living communities weren’t included in the initial vaccine prioritization list, and that it wouldn’t be able to schedule clinics through the program after all.


“Once we got that information, we weren’t quite sure at the time: does that mean forever, and we’ll never be part of it? Or will we come back and be prioritized later?” Sheean told Senior Housing News. “We never really got a clear answer.”

By Jan. 3, the company had settled on a different strategy for obtaining Covid-19 vaccines for its residents: contacting local governments, emergency services and even grocery store pharmacies to see if they are willing to include Holiday’s residents in their vaccination efforts.

“It’s a little crazy at times, and it would have been so much easier to have Walgreens or CVS do this like we’ve done flu clinics,” Sheean said. “But since we were taken out of that program, this is what we’ve had to do.”


But as crazy as the process can be, it has garnered results for Holiday and its more than 30,000 residents. As of Feb. 8, Holiday had scheduled or completed vaccine clinics at 122 of its 259 communities, and the company has made it a goal to complete the process at all of its communities by the end of the month.

“Sometimes we have to be a little scrappy to get what we want,” Sheean said.

Cold calls

Getting vaccines into the arms of Holiday’s residents is a team effort that includes everyone, from CEO Lilly Donohue to the provider’s local community teams.

The effort involves making calls to anyone who might have a supply of Covid-19 vaccines. That includes emergency service providers, such as fire departments; county health departments; and small local pharmacies, such as the ones attached to Kroger, Wegmans or Albertsons grocery stores.

At the community level, small teams made up of general managers, sales leaders and office managers are picking up the phone and hunting for vaccines. The company also has a team aiding the effort at its corporate support center.

“In the old sales world, when you needed to get leads or make sales, you’d have a team that would have some hype around it, and you’d be figuring out who’s got the lead, who’s made a call, who’s had a contact,” Sheean said. “We’re actually doing that this week for the rest of our communities who haven’t been able to get a ‘yes’ to have somebody come do this.”

Often, the person on the other end of the line isn’t familiar with the senior living industry and its nuances. So, Holiday’s effort includes education about independent living and the product type’s resident profile.

“You tell people it’s an average age of 82, that [residents] don’t have kitchens in their apartments, that they are eating in common spaces, that we help them with activities and transportation — once they hear that, they say, ‘Geez, why weren’t you guys in this program?’” Sheean said. “But we say ‘That’s why we need your help,’ and that’s how we’re getting all of the yeses.”

Holiday has set up the vast majority of its clinics onsite at its communities, Sheean said. In the instances where vaccine providers can’t travel to the community, Holiday is booking group appointments and sending its residents in chartered buses to get vaccinated.

“The nurse gets on the bus, everybody is socially distanced and has their paperwork, and then the nurse gives the shots right on the bus,” Sheean said.

For anyone receiving the vaccine, there are no out-of-pocket costs. For Holiday, there are some added expenses related to scheduling staff for the clinics and transporting residents to them.

“We believe the additional cost has been well worth it to provide access to the vaccine as quickly as possible,” Sheean said.

At the end of the day, going this route is far from efficient, and Sheean stressed she would choose Walgreens or CVS “all day long” if either of those companies could commit to the effort.

“But I just don’t think that’s going to happen, or it’s going to happen much later,” Sheean said. “It’s just too important … and we owe it to our residents and our staff to try to get this for them.”

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