BILLINGS — Volunteering residents and staff at Highgate Senior Living in Billings had their first of three Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination clinics Wednesday, bringing a much-needed dose of hope to the facility's 82 residents.
Marjorie Flynn, a resident at Highgate for four years, was among the group to get their vaccine Wednesday.
"I have the attitude that if it's going to help me, then I'm going to do it. I can't be boo-hooing and screaming or swearing because it's something that Highgate is going to keep us safe, and we want to keep (staff) safe too,"said Flynn.
The pandemic has been a long road for residents at Highgate. They spent much of 2020 isolated in their rooms with meals brought to their door and no visits from family members. News of the vaccine clinic felt like a light at the end of the tunnel for many residents.
Megan Wilson, community relations coordinator for Highgate, was part of the team that got to deliver the news to the long-term care community Tuesday.
"To see some of them get so emotional that this is finally being offered, and they might get to see their families and their friends. Like Marjie said, they were so thankful that we're all getting it too and promoting it to the team because we know that it is going to keep them safe, and we trust it," Wilson said.
Wilson said a majority of residents and the 70 staff members volunteered to be administered the vaccine.
“It sounds like all of our residents have decided to get it, or a majority of them, and it does sound like a good portion of our team members have. But we’re trying hard for 100 percent to get it," Wilson said.
Highgate has two more vaccination clinics scheduled for February. Wilson said the hope is to get the facility 100 percent vaccinated by then after residents set the example for others.
More good news at Highgate came last month when limited community dining and group activities started back up. Wilson said protocols have been slightly relaxed because of advanced COVID-19 screening for both staff and residents along with no active cases in the facility.
“We definitely saw some anxiety, some depression in our residents from not being able to see their families and be out and about doing communal dining and things like that, but in the last month or so we’ve been able to start communal dining. We’ve been able to start limited group activities and we have just seen our residents perk up and they’re happy and they’re excited. It’s neat to see them making those connections again," Wilson said.
Currently, family members still aren't able to make in-house visits to their loved ones at Highgate, and it's been that way since March 2020. Residents have been able to catch up with family through the technology of video calls, but that interaction isn't the same as one had face-to-face.
The health care staff at Highgate became like family during the pandemic, Flynn said. When a banner was put up by the front door of the facility reading "Heroes Work Here", those words rang true for Flynn.
“When they put that up and I saw that, I just thought, my gosh, they couldn’t have put something better up because they are our heroes. They take care of us. They watch out for us. They feed us well. … they’re just very kind and considerate," Flynn said.
Across the state thus far, there have been 42,000 people given their first dose of COVID-19 in Montana, Gov. Greg Gianforte said at a press conference Wednesday.