AUBURN — Six months ago, The Commons on St. Anthony was dealing with a nightmare: A COVID-19 outbreak that affected more than 200 nursing home residents, 60 of whom died.
On Tuesday, there was a much different mood at the Auburn skilled nursing facility. A food truck was parked outside. Employees sat at picnic tables and enjoyed their lunch. A banner was displayed near the main entrance. It congratulated The Commons on achieving herd immunity.
Loretto, which operates the Auburn nursing home, announced that most of the facility's residents and staff are vaccinated. Dr. Kim Townsend, president and CEO of Loretto, told The Citizen in an interview that 86% of residents and 72% of employees received the COVID-19 vaccine.
It's a turnaround for a nursing home that faced the worst of the pandemic over the winter. As COVID-19 cases spiked in the community, the virus affected employees and residents. When the facility hosted its first vaccination clinic before Christmas, the staff was responding to the outbreak. Employees and residents at the nursing home were among the first in Cayuga County to receive the vaccine.
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"Here as much as any other place where they've had COVID, people understand what COVID can do and I think that it made people do their part to end the pandemic," Townsend said. "That's what we all need to do."
To vaccinate employees and residents at the 300-bed facility, Townsend described it as an "all-hands-on-deck effort." Loretto partnered with PharmScripts, a company that provides pharmaceutical services at long-term care facilities, to offer vaccination clinics.
It was through community engagement that Loretto was able to vaccinate so many employees and residents over the past six months. Whether it was communication with physicians or the building's leadership, Townsend said people shared their experiences with the vaccine and encouraged others to get their shots.
"It was through that hearts and minds-type effort that we reached 72% of our staff and 86% of our residents vaccinated," she added.
After the initial round of clinics in late December and January, Townsend said they continue to have periodic clinics for employees and residents. The facility's leadership, she explained, would have conversations with residents and staff. At the additional clinics, more people would get vaccinated.
Something that helped encourage others to get the vaccine is having people who were vaccinated in December. There are residents and staff at the facility who received the vaccine six months ago, Townsend said, and haven't experienced any ill effects.
The availability of the COVID-19 vaccine has benefited The Commons and the Auburn area. The number of active cases is down to 22, which is an 8-month low, and the Cayuga County Health Department reported one virus-related hospitalization on Monday.
With more people getting vaccinated, it's allowed businesses to reopen and state and local governments have eased many restrictions. In March, the state revised its guidance for nursing home visitation. Visitors have been allowed to see their family members inside the facilities.
Health officials have said that, with the vaccine, there is light at the end of the tunnel. At The Commons, employees hope they are at the end.
"The whole thing was very hard. It was horrible," said Ronda McNabb, a certified nursing assistant. "But we all stuck together. We all got through it. We all worked as a family here and just made sure the residents were taken care of the best that we possibly could."
Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.