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‘A lot of joy’: WI long-term care workers, residents get first vaccines

NEW GLARUS (WKOW) -- Patty Emberson is celebrating a step forward in the pandemic as she got her coronavirus vaccine at work on Monday.

"Couldn't be more excited," she told our affiliate 27 News. "We're not sure how we got picked to be first but we were excited that it was us. We're very grateful, our residents have embraced it so, yeah, we feel great about it."

The long-term care facility was one of the first nine in Wisconsin to be visited by pharmacy vaccinators. DHS officials tell 27 News 42 facilities are scheduled through Thursday.

Emberson, who is New Glarus Home's director of nursing, said 70 of 74 residents and nearly two-thirds of staff members opted to get the vaccine in this first visit.

"They're very excited. A lot of joy. We see a little light at the end of that tunnel," she said. "When the residents receive their vaccine, they can't wait to go back and call their family members to tell them that they got the vaccine."

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been off-limits for visitors throughout the pandemic, as staff work to keep residents and themselves safe from the virus.

"The spread in a long-term care facility, or really any congregate setting, is directly related to the spread in the community. If the spread of the community is high, the spread in the facility is also going to be high," said Rick Abrams, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Health Care Association and the Wisconsin Center for Assisted Living.

Abrams says facilities have been preparing for vaccine clinics since the Moderna vaccine was approved 10 days ago, working to educate staff, residents and families about the importance of getting the shot.

Vaccinators from CVS and Walgreens will make three visits to each of the 360 nursing homes and thousands of assisted living facilities in the state. Everyone who gets the vaccine will need a second dose 28 days later.

"Within the next two to three weeks, beginning [Monday], every facility, every nursing facility in the state will have had at least their first clinic," he said.

Industry leaders say it will take months before everyone who wants the shot will be fully-vaccinated.

"It is a significant undertaking. We estimate that around 200,000 staff and residents in long-term care will be offered the vaccine," said John Sauer, president and CEO of LeadingAge Wisconsin.

Sauer said Monday he heard the vaccination process was going smoothly at facilities across the state: a solid step forward for long-term care facilities in the pandemic.

"We use today as an opportunity to step away from the despair of the pandemic, to moving across the line to say, this is a reason for hope, for optimism and moving closer to the day where the pandemic doesn't have to dictate our lives and, frankly, threaten the lives of older adults," Sauer said.

New Glarus Homes staff are feeling a sense of relief, as they take their next step forward.

"Absolutely, you know, not a lot's gonna change right now with us getting the vaccine until more people have the vaccine, but we're excited to know this is one step closer of letting these residents families come back inside this building," Emberson said.

Dani Smith

News Producer

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