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Arrival Of COVID-19 Vaccine A 'Sign Of Hope' For Kansas Senior Living Home

Karen Smith wears a mask at her retirement community.
Nadya Faulx
Karen Smith is one of almost 300 residents and staff members at Wichita Presbyterian Manor to receive the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine last Friday.

The pandemic changed life in retirement communities. Getting residents vaccinated is the first step in moving back to the conviviality that draws people to them.

Karen Smith decided five years ago to move into Wichita Presbyterian Manor.

"It was a good decision," she said. "I wanted to come early. I was in the mood to move and get in some place I could be in for the rest of my life."

At 75, she’s among the younger residents there. She lives in the independent living unit — the sprawling campus at 13th and Zoo Boulevard also includes assisted living, memory care, long-term care and health services — and enjoys staying active.

"I did not want to be isolated in my old age," she said. "If you want to visit, all you have to do is walk out your door and walk down the hall. And there's usually somebody wants to visit with you, too.

"So it's good. It's good. Keeps us thinking."

But much of that activity — trips, events, visits from family — was cut off when the pandemic began last spring.

Courtney Wolf wearing a mask.
Credit Nadya Faulx / KMUW
Wichita Presbyterian Manor executive director Courtney Wolfe

"Our business model and the way we operate changed drastically," said executive director Courtney Wolfe. "We went from really giving life to individuals to trying to save their life and trying to protect them from this nasty virus.

"Every single aspect of our business changed."

Adult care homes have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19: Sedgwick County alone has reported nearly 3,000 cases in clusters at long-term care facilities and more than 160 deaths tied to those clusters.

After managing to keep the virus out of its facility for much of last year, Wichita Presbyterian Manor experienced an outbreak among staff and residents in December. It also reported four new cases this month.

But Wolfe says the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine last week has been a "sign of hope" at the facility. Close to 300 residents and staff received their first dose of the vaccine on Friday through a partnership with CVS.

Two photos of people getting shots
Credit Courtesy Stephanie Bergmann / Wichita Presbyterian Manor
Two residents receive the vaccine last Friday.

"Everybody was so excited," Smith said. "I have friends who have had their sleeve rolled up for a month, you know, just waiting for the vaccine."

Smith, a retired nurse, says she’s managed to stay somewhat active this past year, meeting friends in the dining hall for physically distanced meals and attending events over Zoom. But she canceled three planned trips and mostly limits her outings to trips to the grocery store for curbside pickup.

She says she’s ready for life to get back to normal, but knows that even with the vaccine, "it won’t for a while." "I have a sister that lives 10 minutes away, but I’ve only been to her house a couple of times in the last year," she said. "And then we sat across the living room from each other and don’t hug. So I’ll be glad when I can hug my relatives."

A second vaccine clinic is scheduled for Feb. 12. Wolfe said getting residents and staff vaccinated has brought "a lot of optimism about what the future holds," but restrictions are still in place as the virus continues to spread outside Wichita Presbyterian Manor.

"We need the greater Wichita and Sedgwick County areas to practice social distancing, wearing masks, and ensuring that the positivity rate continues to go down so that our residents can enjoy some of the freedoms that they haven’t had for the last 10 months," Wolfe said.

"We hear every single day from family members about their desire to see their loved ones and to reconnect with them. And we need the community's help to do that."
Copyright 2021 KMUW | NPR for Wichita. To see more, visit KMUW | NPR for Wichita.

Nadya joined KMUW in May 2015 (which will sound more impressive when it’s not June 2015) after a year at a newspaper in western North Dakota, where she did not pick up an accent.
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