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caption: Lori Spencer touches the glass of her mother Judie Shape's window while saying goodbye at the Life Care Center of Kirkland, the long-term care facility at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Washington state, on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in Kirkland.
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Lori Spencer touches the glass of her mother Judie Shape's window while saying goodbye at the Life Care Center of Kirkland, the long-term care facility at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Washington state, on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in Kirkland.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

'When are we getting vaccinated?' WA senior homes with Covid outbreaks get no response from pharmacies

Many senior living communities were expecting to begin Covid vaccinations next week. But they say they haven't gotten any specific information from CVS and Walgreens, who are to provide the vaccine.

Other retirement homes in the midst of an outbreak are being given Covid vaccination dates weeks in the future. They say time is precious and delays could cost lives.

CVS and Walgreens are partnering with the federal government to administer Covid vaccinations to residents and staff of long-term care facilities, which have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic.

On Wednesday, the head of Covid vaccination planning for the Washington State Department of Health, Michele Roberts said on a media briefing that facilities registered with the CDC’s program would begin vaccinations on December 28th. CVS sent KUOW a press release saying the same thing.

More than 1,600 Covid deaths in Washington — over half of the state’s toll — are connected to long-term care facilities as of December 21, according to data from the Washington state Department of Health.

“Protecting the vulnerable has been the number one priority of the Trump Administration’s response to COVID-19, and that commitment will continue through distributing a safe and effective vaccine earliest to those who need it most,” Alex Azar, Health and Human Services Secretary, was quoted saying in an October press release.

Yet, senior living communities who signed up for the federal program are watching vaccinations roll out at hospitals and retirement homes that did not sign up with CVS and Walgreens.

“You hear about all these health care workers or facilities getting the vaccine and pictures in the media, and yet here we are in long-term care with the most frail population, and we can’t figure out how to get the vaccine here,” said Amy Webb, executive director of Gig Harbor retirement community, Heron’s Key.

This week, a community at the edge of Lake Washington in Madison Park, Parkshore, administered vaccinations provided by the pharmacy, Consonus Healthcare.

The reason some long-term care facilities are able to deliver shots quicker than others reveals one key difference in logistics: While CVS and Walgreens use their own staff to inject vaccines, Consonus delivers the vials, and the staff who already work at the retirement community administer it.

Josephine Caring Community in Stanwood originally signed up with CVS and was given January 9 as a vaccination date, CEO Terry Robertson said. He doesn’t know why the pharmacy gave them that date, since communication from CVS “hasn’t been great,” he said.

The community is in the grip of a Covid outbreak that has infected 174 people, hospitalized 15 and killed 29 as of December 24, according to the Snohomish Health District.

CVS did not respond to KUOW's question about why Josephine Caring Community wasn't given vaccination priority, despite having an active Covid outbreak.

When Robertson found out Josephine Caring Community could change its vaccine provider to Consonus, he made the switch. Now the facility will begin vaccinations two weeks earlier than planned on December 27. And that’s two weeks earlier that staff and residents can get “out of this hell that we’re living in,” Robertson said.

“Every minute seems like an eternity with this Covid pandemic,” he said.

Switching to Consonus wouldn’t work for Tacoma Lutheran Retirement Community, however, president and CEO Kevin McFeely said. The community is currently short-staffed due to a Covid outbreak, infecting more than 40 nursing home staff and residents in all.

Instead, managers are frustrated and waiting to hear their vaccination date from CVS, as staff and residents ask daily when they’re going to get vaccinated.

It’s a “gut-wrenching” conversation, McFeely said.

“Imagine you’re somebody who has been basically isolated for 9-10 months now, and we have to keep telling them, ‘Sorry, we don’t have a date. We don’t have a date,’” he said. “And we have to tell the family that.”

Director of nursing, Brita Carpenter said she reached out to CVS last week and got an email confirmation that the community is contracted with CVS, she said. The email didn’t offer a vaccination date, but said CVS would be reaching out in the next two to three weeks.

“At least call us, talk with us, give us some information that we can share with everybody,” McFeely said.

CVS spokesperson Joseph Diebold provided KUOW with this statement on behalf of the company:

“CVS Health has partnered with 771 long-term care facilities in the state of Washington to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to their residents and staff. We are in regular communication with our facility partners and they can contact us with any questions or concerns they have. We remain committed to resolving any issues as part of the important role we are playing to help end the pandemic. “

For her part, dealing with Walgreens hasn’t been any better for Heron’s Key head, Amy Webb, she said.

When she spoke to KUOW on Wednesday, the last email she had received from Walgreens was a month ago from “noreply@walgreens.com,” Webb said.

At that point, they had no idea what date the vaccine would be available to the community — or how many doses, or who to even reach out to with questions, she said.

“It’s incredibly frustrating when people are dying around you,” Webb said. Around 16 residents and 16 staff are currently infected with Covid at the retirement community, Webb said, and two residents have died.

After we spoke, Webb searched online for another way to contact Walgreens and found a generic email address: “immunizeLTC@walgreens.com.”

Webb reached out and got a call back quickly. Now the community is scheduled for vaccinations on December 30, she said.

“It shouldn’t have to be a scavenger hunt!” Webb said.

KUOW also reached out to Walgreens. The company did not confirm how many local senior living communities it will vaccinate next week as “the number of facilities finalizing their plans changes daily,” spokesperson Rebekah Pajak said.

Additionally, Walgreens did not respond to questions regarding the frustration expressed by Washington long-term care facilities.