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Long-term care staff reflect on hard year when deciding about the vaccine


As of last week, 2,134 long-term care facilities in Michigan had completed their first COVID-19 vaccination clinic with either Walgreens or CVS. Many locations are gearing up for their second clinic this week.

Staff members overall have been more hesitant about getting a shot than the residents in these facilities. Some, as they make their decision, are reflecting on a tough year.

Take Mary Frisby, who directs Calhoun County’s Marian E. Burch Adult Day Care Center. Last March, that center closed its doors, and Frisby, who’s a licensed social worker, moved over to the sister facility: the Calhoun County Medical Care Facility, a nursing home. 

There she helped answer calls, take residents’ temperatures, communicate with their families — basically, wherever she was needed.

Frisby told Michigan Radio that in December, after years of struggling with lung disease, her partner John Green passed away, at home. She considers herself “fortunate” to have been in the same room with him, knowing that others over the past year weren’t able to spend those final moments with their loved ones.

"The heartache that they had to go through knowing that they could not be there to hold that hand of that loved one and tell them, ‘it’s OK to go,’” she said. “Bless their hearts. My heart goes out to them.”

While working at the nursing facility, Frisby would often have to wear a mask at home and sleep in a separate bed. She says that experience is one reason she decided to get the vaccine.

Frisby plans to get her second shot this week, at the facility, which signed up to receive doses from CVS through the federal pharmacy program.

Thousands of Michigan facilities have registered with that program, but many other homes that serve older Michiganders and those with disabilities are getting vaccinated otherwise.

Synod Community Services runs 13 adult foster care homes in Washtenaw County and Oakland County. CEO Keta Cowan says the Washtenaw County homes received their doses — two clinics’ worth — from a team of nurses within the Washtenaw County Health Department. 

“One of our staff, after he was vaccinated, walked out and said something to the effect of, 'Well, we don’t make much, but I love my job, and this is like winning the lottery,’” said Cowan. “There is huge relief.”

Cowan says about 90% of Synod's clients in Washtenaw County got shots, compared to about 60% of staff. The Synod homes in Oakland County, on the other hand, started the year working with Walgreens, but were recently informed that a new pharmacy, Genoa Healthcare, would be taking them on instead.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says about 1,100 facilities were recently transferred from Walgreens to other pharmacies, including Genoa, that could administer doses sooner.

Will Callan, a reporter for Michigan Radio, hails from the Bay Area, where he lived in Oakland and San Francisco and reported for local newspapers and magazines. He enjoys a long swim in chilly water (preferably followed by a sauna) and getting to know new cities. That's one reason he's excited to be in Ann Arbor, which he can already tell has just the right combo of urban grit and natural beauty to make him feel at home.
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