In Post-Vaccination Life, Residents Return to Lunches, Events, Visits at Long-Term Care Facilities

[Noozhawk’s Note: This story is one in an exclusive series investigating the toll of COVID-19 outbreaks in Santa Barbara County skilled nursing facilities and other long-term care facilities. Noozhawk will publish additional stories about efforts to prevent and contain coronavirus outbreaks at these facilities, and what post-vaccination life has been like for residents.]

Raven Wylde can now take her 92-year-old mother to lunch.

It's an activity they only recently resumed, after a long break in visits during the pandemic.

“She loves her bourbon and water tall,” Wylde said of her mother. “That's what she lives for basically is this one drink, and she always orders it.”

Both Wylde and her mother, Safornia Janice Elwell, who lives at the Channel Islands Post Acute long-term care facility, are fully vaccinated for COVID-19.

Wylde has been taking her mother out every week since April, and the duo recently had lunch at The Boathouse restaurant at Arroyo Burro Beach in Santa Barbara and Scarlett Begonia in the downtown area.

Wylde said her mother wasn’t interested in looking at the ocean at the beach, but enjoyed watching dogs romp happily along the sand, and seeing sparkly and colorful clothes on the people walking by.

“She never wanted to end up in long-term care,” Wylde said. “That was one of her biggest fears, and then it happens to you. She deals pretty well with it.”

Life After Vaccination at Long-Term Care Facilities

Skilled-nursing and assisted-living facilities were prioritized for COVID-19 vaccination efforts, and many local residents and workers got access in December, January and February.

Since then, long-term care facilities are restarting communal meals and activities, and allowing in-person visits again.  

It’s a step toward returning to pre-pandemic life. 

Residents at Maravilla enjoy an event to mark Earth Day at the retirement campus, 5486 Calle Real in Santa Barbara. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Residents at Maravilla enjoy an event to mark Earth Day at the retirement campus, 5486 Calle Real in Santa Barbara. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

“Now that people are vaccinated, there are certain things that they can do in the facility,” said Jan Koegler, manager of the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department’s emergency preparedness program. “They can bring back meals together. They can have activities again. They can have visitors who are vaccinated.

“They have visitors who are unvaccinated, but still with restrictions that they will wear a mask when they're in the room with them, and still keep their distance, and so forth,” she continued. “But this is certainly better scenario now.”

There still could be breakthrough positive COVID-19 cases, and there still is a risk to some, especially the skilled-nursing facility residents who are most vulnerable to outbreaks, Koegler added.  

“We've had very few positive cases,” Koegler said. “Most of the cases in the skilled-nursing facilities have been an unvaccinated staff or resident. … It has just been the person who's not vaccinated, largely.”

Long-term care facilities for older adults, and other congregate-living environments, were particularly vulnerable to outbreaks of the novel coronavirus.

A state database shows nearly 480 residents and more than 440 workers in the county’s 14 skilled nursing facilities have tested positive during the course of the pandemic.

In this county, 170 COVID-19-related deaths were connected to an outbreak in a congregate-care facility, including skilled nursing, assisted living, independent living, other residential care facilities for the elderly, the county Main Jail, the Lompoc federal prison complex, H-2A farmworker housing, and supportive housing.

More than 70% of the 450 local COVID-19-related deaths were among people ages 70 and older, according to the Public Health Department, which is why older adults were prioritized for early vaccine access.

Vista del Monte resident Claudia Taden at the retirement community, located at 3775 Modoc Rd. in Santa Barbara. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Vista del Monte resident Claudia Taden at the retirement community, located at 3775 Modoc Rd. in Santa Barbara. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Now, it's estimated at least 85% of Santa Barbara County residents 75 and older have been vaccinated, including most of the people living at long-term care facilities.

State and county data show a steep downward trend in cases and fatalities among residents of skilled-nursing facilities in recent months.

The last COVID-19 case of a local skilled-nursing facility resident was reported on Feb. 22.

In Santa Barbara County, no new daily cases have been reported among residents of skilled nursing facilities and staff in May, according to state data.

Visiting with Neighbors and Attending Adult Education Classes Again  

Vista del Monte, a retirement community in Santa Barbara offering independent living, assisted living, memory care and other senior living options, went into full lockdown in mid-March 2020, according to resident Claudia Taden.

All residents stayed in their apartments, were given masks to wear, and were told to physically distance whenever they came in contact with others, Taden said.

If someone wanted, their meals could be served to them on Vista del Monte’s outdoor patio or indoor in the patio room, with limited seating, Taden said.

Residents were encouraged to spend time outdoors and get fresh air, she said. 

“I like being outdoors all the time, mainly for walking,” Taden said. “I have a lovely patio attached to my apartment, so that's where I eat most of my meals.”

Taden said Vista del Monte residents were able to maintain safe social interactions, even with pandemic-related restrictions.

“You don't suffer depression or isolation because of the community presence here,” the 78-year-old said. “I can’t even think of one negative thing.”

Taden grew up in Wheaton, Illinois, and she moved to Santa Barbara for a job opening when she was about 25 years old. 

The University of Iowa graduate, who has been a speech therapist for more than 50 years, decided to fly to California. She went from Sacramento to San Diego, and everywhere in between. Taden first resided in Ventura because there was a job available.

Taden has been a resident at Vista del Monte independent living for more than five years.

“I have wonderful neighbors,” Taden said. “We all know each other. We all help each other. We are true neighbors.” 

Looking forward, she is excited to attend Santa Barbara City College courses for older adults that are offered at Vista del Monte. 

On Tuesday mornings, an instructor will read The New York Times and other major newspapers with international and national coverage, and then he will teach current events from around the world. Attendees engage in discussion.

“They are wonderful,” Taden said of the classes. “I really miss attending those. The whole main lounge room is filled.”

Gathering for Meals at Casa Dorinda   

Just before Christmas, staff at Casa Dorinda received a call about getting the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to residents and staff.

Teams from CVS pharmacy came to the Montecito private retirement community to administer the vaccinations, and the effort was completed in mid-February, said Katie Hoegh-Guldberg, director of sales and marketing at Casa Dorinda.

Almost all the facility's residents are vaccinated.

“99.5% of our residents are vaccinated,” Hoegh-Guldberg said. “We had two residents who did not receive the vaccine only because they had underlying medical conditions that prohibited them from doing so.”

This March, the outdoor communal dining patio reopened to residents, and shortly after, indoor meals at the main dining room started again, with some capacity limitations because of public health restrictions.

“Dining is the heart and soul of a retirement community, because that is when residents are able to gather with friends, but also family and friends from the outside community as well,” Hoegh-Guldberg said.

“Things have started to get back to a more normal everyday Casa life here for our residents,” Hoegh-Guldberg said.

This story is part of a series investigating the toll of COVID-19 outbreaks in Santa Barbara County skilled nursing facilities and other long-term care facilities. Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland reported this story while participating in the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism’s 2020 Data Fellowship.

[This story was originally published by Noozhawk].

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