Daughters of Israel rings in the new year with COVID vaccinations

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — Daughters of Israel kicked off the new year with a celebration as residents and staff at the nursing home in West Orange received the first round of the COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 1, a step in the right direction toward ending the pandemic that kept the home’s residents from seeing their friends and families for most of 2020. Most people at the facility — 140 residents and 138 staff members — chose to receive the vaccine.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Executive Director Susan Grosser said in a phone interview with the West Orange Chronicle on Jan. 4. “We’ll have to wait and see how immunity builds.”

Daughters of Israel received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and the people who got it will get the second shot of the two-part vaccination in a few weeks. Nursing homes have been extremely vulnerable to the coronavirus, as the risk for older adults contracting the disease is high.

“We’re fortunate to be able to get it,” Renee Glick, the public relations director at Daughters of Israel, said about the vaccine in a phone interview with the Chronicle on Dec. 31. “It’s older adults who are the most vulnerable, and the people who take care of them can get it as well. I think we’re all playing our part.”

Nursing homes have been hit hard with the virus, and Glick said Daughters of Israel was no exception. Though Daughters of Israel is normally a place where residents gather to spend time together, those residents largely spent the past year isolated in their own rooms. Grosser said outdoor visits with family members were permitted during the summer, but those ended with the advent of colder weather.

“They’ve lived through a lot of isolation,” Grosser said. “They haven’t been able to see their families. One resident told me she missed seeing her friends. It’s just been a huge toll on them.”

The staff has been at risk as well, but both Glick and Grosser said they have stepped up in impossible circumstances. Each staff member is tested three times a week and wears full PPE, while the clinical staff has specialized equipment.

“They’ve been so great with keeping residents engaged,” Glick said. “We celebrated Hanukkah and broadcast lighting the candles over speakers. We’ve had traveling parades through the hallways. Regardless of what’s going on, they have been thinking about how to reach and stimulate them.”

Unlike the residents, staff members have to go home at the end of each day, and many of them have families that are at risk for the virus by extension. But this hasn’t stopped anyone from doing the best they can at work.

“Everyone rose to the occasion,” Grosser said. “These residents are family to them. They all take huge pride in what they do; to see them doing this is inspiring.”

The mood was inherently celebratory on New Year’s Day, though, as vaccinations began. There were balloons, decorations and gift bags on hand.

“It was a celebration,” Grosser said. “We made a party out of it.”

The pandemic isn’t over yet. But with a vaccine, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

“We still need to see how this plays out,” Grosser said. “It’s not a silver bullet. But as we move forward, hopefully the health department can give us some better information.”

Photos Courtesy of Renee Glick