Music played and gold balloons bounced in the hallway on Monday, December 28, as a team from CVS administered the covid-19 vaccine to staff and residents at the 180-bed Jewish Home at Rockleigh.
Jewish Home Family President and CEO Carol Silver Elliott was cheered by staffers when she got her Pfizer shot in the long-term care facility’s social hall. She was not, however, the first in line.
“We chose Tracey Couliboly, our director of recreation, to be the first to be vaccinated,” Ms. Silver Elliott said.
“She had a very rough go with covid. She was in the hospital for three weeks and she was convinced she might not get out. So it was really important for us to have her go first. As I watched her walk afterward from the social hall through the adjacent synagogue — a beautiful house of God with its floor-to-ceiling stained-glass windows and incredible soft light — it was as exciting and spiritual a moment as any I’ve ever experienced.”
Ms. Silver Elliott said that the Jewish Home was one of the first nursing homes in New Jersey to get the vaccines. “I feel emotional and extremely grateful for this opportunity,” she said. “We want our staff and their families to be safe and for our elders to be safe.
“It was quite a scramble to get ready for this, because we weren’t notified until the Monday night before that we were getting it, and we didn’t get confirmation until Wednesday. We ran around and got consent forms from the families, elders, and staff.”
Nurses and social workers made a one-on-one effort to reassure people and answer questions about the Pfizer vaccine, though some hesitation remained. In the end, 168 staff members — more than half of the employees on the Rockleigh campus — gave consent, and several more decided to come at the last minute. Among residents, 122 gave consent to be vaccinated on December 28.
There had been some glitches in entering information into the CVS computer system the Friday before. “We couldn’t get anyone on the phone at CVS because it was Christmas Day, but Ezra Halevi, our IT manager, thank God, figured it out,” Ms. Silver Elliott reported. “We were so relieved.”
On vaccination day, employees wore the turquoise t-shirts they were issued during the summer. The shirts are emblazoned with “Jewish Home Family Hero” on the front and “Smiling Under Our Masks” on the back. Each one got a button proclaiming “I GOT MY COVID-19 VACCINE!”
“That button is the badge of honor,” Ms. Silver Elliott said. “We are celebrating life, celebrating that we can have a 2021 that is healthy and safe for us and our families and our elders and coworkers.”
Before she got her shot, Naomi McDermott, the director of social services, said that she felt full of hope and positivity. “The vaccine means that in the foreseeable future I will be able to give our elders a hug and a touch without a glove,” she said. “I’m not going to stop wearing my mask, I’m not going to stop social distancing and taking actions that will keep me safe, but it will give me something priceless: peace of mind.”
After getting his first dose, Jewish Home resident Dr. Michael Kailas said, “I’m ecstatic that I’m getting it, because I had covid more than a month ago and I don’t want to go through that experience again. With a 95 percent effective vaccine, I will feel more confident being around people, although I will still take precautions.”
Those who opted not to sign up for the first round will have another chance to get their first dose later this month, Ms. Silver Elliott said. “I hope the entire team will come on board. To be just those eyes behind a mask that can’t come close is not who we want to be. We will continue with education and to work with people who have not given consent.”
Starting with four covid-19 cases among residents and staff in March, the virus eventually struck a total of 244 people in the Jewish Home at Rockleigh and at the Jewish Home Assisted Living in River Vale. Fortunately, more than 90 percent recovered.
“It took us time to get it under control within our walls,” Ms. Silver Elliott said. “Our vaccination clinic is a landmark moment after 10 months of struggle. Our exhaustion has turned to exhilaration. It’s truly the start of a new beginning for everybody.”
Assisted living facilities may be getting vaccines in February, after all long-term nursing facilities in the state have received theirs. Meanwhile, Ms. Silver Elliott said, regular testing and other covid precautions will continue as before.
“For now, it’s business as usual until the state advises us otherwise. We’ve had great success at containing this second wave and will not allow ourselves to become complacent as we move forward. But now we have a weapon in this battle, and that feels pretty good.”
Only a few days later, on January 1, staff and residents at Daughters of Israel, a skilled nursing facility in West Orange, kicked off the new year with a covid vaccination clinic.
More than 200 staff members and residents, representing most of the residents and more than half the staff, were inoculated, Second doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be delivered on January 22, at which time any resident or employee who didn’t get the first dose will have the opportunity to be vaccinated.
“It is an important step towards making our community healthy and safe, and a ray of hope for many,” Daughters of Israel’s executive director, Susan Grosser, said. “We are excited that New Jersey has included long-term care residents and staff as a top priority for vaccination in our state.”