Henry Kisor participated in Vaccination Day at Three Crowns Park. His service dog, Trooper, slept through the event. Photo from Three Crowns Park

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After waiting patiently to hear when Three Crowns Park residents and staff would receive the first doses of the COVID vaccine, Interim Executive Director Lisa Dye picked up the phone and called Derek Darling. As vice president of strategy, marketing and internal operations of Omnicare, CVS Corporation’s pharmacy benefit manager (PBM), he is one of the people responsible for the distribution and administration of vaccines for long-term care facilities across the country.

“I was afraid we had fallen off the list as it appeared as though every other like community in Evanston had received their vaccination dates in mid-December and we still had not heard anything about dates,” she explained.  Ms. Dye learned on Jan. 8 that four teams of clinicians, each with a pharmacist and a technical aide, would arrive the following Tuesday morning to vaccinate staff and residents, including those in independent living quarters. 

Guidance from the CDC and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has been fluid about what groups are included in Phase 1a. Ms. Dye advocated vaccinating all residents of Three Crowns Park, not just skilled nursing and memory care residents who are clearly included in Phase 1a. Three Crowns staff serves everyone, she explained. “We pushed CVS really hard to vaccinate all residents and all people coming into the building.” 

Three Crowns strongly promoted the vaccine, educating residents and staff about its safety and importance and made “Vaccination Day” a festive event by decorating common areas with bunting and balloons and entry ways with curtains of gold streamers.   As a result almost all Three Crowns residents and two-thirds of staff members received a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Jan 12. A second vaccination clinic is scheduled for Feb 2.   

Ms. Dye credits the success of the first vaccination clinic to the leadership and commitment of Phil Hemmer, CEO, and the rest of the Three Crowns staff.  “It was an all-staff-on-deck kind of day,”  she said.

Resident Henry Kisor said he felt “relieved and hopeful” when he and his wife, Debby, received the vaccine on Jan. 12, after almost a year spent in lockdown. Rita Vickers said the process was well organized, relatively simple and Three Crowns had made it a fun event.  “It was like Mardi Gras. The room was decorated; the workers were wonderful; they made it very nice for everyone,” she noted.

Some staff members skipped the vaccine on Jan. 12 for medical reasons such as a compromised autoimmune system or pregnancy, concerns about the vaccine due to misinformation or mistrust of the government or simply because the timing of the clinic was inconvenient. Some staff members, just ending a long shift that afternoon, were deterred by the long line.

Three Crowns is continuing to educate staff members who turned down an early dose.  Residents and healthcare workers who did not participate in the first clinic, can be vaccinated during the Feb 2 clinic. 

CVS teams arrived at 9:30 a.m. and administered the first dose at 11 a.m. to Three Crowns’ oldest resident, age 103, who had dressed up for the occasion.  The clinic ended at 6:30 p.m.

“It was a very long day, and we were too good a host”, Ms. Dye said good-naturedly.   “We take care of people at Three Crowns.  We offered the CVS teams food and they took several breaks even while people were waiting in line.”

Ms. Dye suggested having all the necessary paperwork completed and organized beforehand.  During the few days between notification and the clinic, vaccine project manager Brooke Burke and other employees collected insurance and health information for each resident and worker, merged this documentation with consent forms and uploaded the files to CVS’s system. This reduced the time necessary to complete paperwork during the clinic, sped up the administrative process on Jan. 12 and increased the number of people who were vaccinated.

Ms. Dye concluded that vaccinating the long-term care community and the public at large “is an enormous endeavor. … When COVID showed up at our door, we didn’t know what we didn’t know. There are so many things to be mindful of.”  For example, the Pfizer vaccine requires ultra-cold storage and takes 30 minutes to thaw before use.  “There was a constant conversation about how many people were waiting in line and a lot of collaboration between the vaccination team, managers, residents and staff.” 

Ms. Dye said she was delighted with the process on Jan. 12 and applauded Three Crowns’ staff throughout the last nine months. “It was not an easy year for staff –  to come into an environment to care for residents, knowing there is COVID around and still come and spread joy.  … Three Crowns Park is a unique community.”  

Mr. Kisor says he believes there is a long slog ahead before the pandemic is over. “We still have to get our second jab of the vaccine on Feb. 2, and then wait a couple of weeks before we reach maximum immunity,“ he explained. He emphasized the need to still mask, social distance and hand wash because “we can still be carriers of the virus.”

He compared this milestone in the fight against the pandemic with the British finally winning a land battle against Germany at El Alamein in 1942, three years after the start of World War II and two years before its conclusion.  He quoted from Winston Churchill’s speech after the battle; “Now, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”