Vaccine brings hope to Hermitage

Vaccine brings hope to Hermitage
(Courtesy photo)

By Cody Mello-Klein |

After weeks of waiting for word on when they would receive the COVID-19 vaccine, residents and staff at Hermitage Northern Virginia, a local retirement community, received a dose of hope on Jan. 14.

Through a partnership with Walgreens, Hermitage was able to administer the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine to 86 assisted living residents, 17 health care center residents and 89 staff members – or around 95% of residents and 85% of staff.

For Hermitage staff, the vaccine clinic held on Jan. 14 was a moment worth celebrating. Staff literally rolled out a red carpet, playing music and giving out special lunches, ice cream and candy to those who got the vaccine.

“We just want to get vaccinated and we just want to turn the corner, so it was just very exciting, personally, to get vaccinated,” Debra Norberg, director of marketing and admissions at Hermitage, said. “I took a picture of myself and sent it to a bunch of friends and everybody’s really jealous. It’s just the happiest thing that could possibly happen in the beginning of the year.”

The past year has been challenging for long-term care facilities across the country, including Hermitage. The retirement community constantly had to adapt to the changing conditions around COVID-19, which, at times, required restricting visits for residents.

News that a vaccine was on the way could not come soon enough.

“Every week I kept hoping that we would hear that it would be our turn, and then finally it was,” Norberg said.

Two Hermitage staff members celebrate the vaccine roll out. (Courtesy photo)

After hearing that Hermitage would receive doses of the Pfizer vaccine, staff set about preparing for Jan. 14. Staff not only had to make plans for how the vaccine would be distributed on the day itself but had to educate residents and their families about the vaccine.

Staff held information sessions with residents and team members to provide clear information about the vaccine development process and any associated side effects or risks. However, staff said that most residents could not wait to receive the vaccine and get back to a sense of normalcy.

“I have a resident that I go to every morning and she would say to me, ‘Safi, our days are numbered [until we get the vaccine].’ I said, ‘Yeah, we cannot wait,’” Saffiatu Bangura, a nurse at Hermitage who helped administer the vaccine, said. “So, you can tell most of them want to be safe. They want to go back to normal, which I experienced the day of the vaccine. Some of them in the morning, they could not wait to step out of the door for me to call them out and say, ‘Hey, it’s your turn.’”

“We just feel the higher the percentage of people getting inoculated possibly will allow us to open up the campus that more quickly and just go back to a sense of actually being able to be with each other,” Norberg said.

Norberg said she was impressed by how residents have responded throughout the pandemic. Their eagerness to get the vaccine was further proof of how level-headed many residents have been throughout a challenging year.

Courtesy photo

“My feeling is that people have been through so much in their lives – wars, the Depression, lots of different illnesses – and I just felt like there was this sense of calm that people had and just this belief that if we follow these precautions and we do the right thing, we’re going to be ok,” Norberg said. “No one was that fazed by all this.”

On Jan. 14, 12 Walgreens staff arrived at 9 a.m. to administer the vaccine to residents and staff. Hermitage nursing staff was assigned in groups to help vaccinate residents who had consented in specific areas of the facility, Bangura said.

The process was smooth and easy, as staff went floor-to-floor, room-to-room in the facility to make sure that every resident who wanted to receive the vaccine was able to, according to staff.

Since the vaccine clinic on Jan. 14, the only complaints or side effects staff and residents have mentioned is some soreness on the arm where the vaccine was administered.

Residents are looking forward to seeing their family members in person soon, and nursing staff, like Bangura, said the vaccine has given them some peace of mind that, as frontline workers, they will be less of a risk to their families.

“I have family members that [have] cancer … and I’m lucky to be in the frontline – I got it before them,” Bangura said. “I’m so happy for that.”

For Norberg, the vaccine is hopefully a turning point in an otherwise tough year.

“I feel better than I’ve felt all year. It was so monumental to me. I just could not wait for this to happen, so we’re really happy,” Norberg said.

(Read more: ACPS begins COVID-19 vaccine distribution)