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Vaccine clinics come to other senior living communities in Connecticut

On Jan. 8, Connecticut became one of the first states in the country to provide the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to all its nursing homes. But where does that leave other senior living facilities — such as assisted living, independent living, and low-income senior housing — and who is eligible when?

If you're confused about eligibility and timing, you're not alone.

As part of Phase 1a, the state website defines long-term care facility residents as, "Adults who reside in facilities that provide a range of services, including medical and personal care, to persons who are unable to live independently."

Both CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis and Josh Geballe, chief operating officer for Connecticut, said the state prioritized nursing homes above assisted living facilities in Phase 1a. Connecticut began nursing home vaccine clinics on Dec. 18, 2020, and DeAngelis said CVS began visiting assisted living and other long-term care facilities on Jan. 4.

CVS is the vaccine clinic partner for 178 of the 210 nursing homes in the state, and it has completed second doses at 74% of assigned facilities, DeAngelis said Monday. CVS has also completed first doses at 386 — up from 186 last Tuesday — of its 398 partner assisted living and other long-term care facilities.

Asked Monday if independent living facilities and low-income senior housing complexes that have had clinics through CVS or Walgreens are supposed to be eligible under Phase 1a, Geballe said yes, that they're part of the second tier in Phase 1a, after nursing homes. He said when they have a clinic, anyone there is eligible, regardless of age.

But others have said independent living facilities count as congregate housing, which the state website says "will be phased in throughout Phase 1b."

Such facilities seem to be in a gray area between Phases 1a and 1b: Some people in independent living have been vaccinated seemingly because they live in a facility that also offers assisted living, which is part of Phase 1a. But there are also vaccine clinics happening at independent living facilities without assisted living.

Of the 176 apartments at Masonicare at Mystic, 99 are independent living, 45 are memory care and 32 are assisted living, Executive Director Lauren Dubuque said, and the facility had its first of three vaccine clinics through CVS on Jan. 21.

The vaccine was offered to all residents and staff, and the CVS team administered 232 doses that day, Dubuque said. The youngest resident to be vaccinated is 61, but she said there are "just a handful" of people under 75 who live there.

While nearly all residents got vaccinated, Dubuque said there is "some continued work to do in educating and reassuring staff" who have fears.

It will be mandatory for staff at all Masonicare locations to be vaccinated by June. Atria Senior Living is requiring all employees at its 170 locations nationwide to be vaccinated by May 1, Senior Vice President John Hartmayer said in an email statement.

Atria Crossroads Place in Waterford offers independent living, assisted living and memory care, and its partner is CVS. This location had its first clinic Saturday and will have its second Feb. 13, according to Atria's COVID-19 Vaccination Tracker.

Mixed results in scheduling clinics

Elderly Housing Management oversees more than 60 properties in Connecticut, and about 8 to 10 have had vaccine clinics through CVS so far, Director of Property Management Tammy Lautz said Monday, with the first ones taking place Jan. 8.

She said most communities are 62-and-older and are considered independent living, with or without assistive services. That means that unlike skilled nursing and assisted living facilities, they don't have 24/7 staffing, but having assistive services means having a coordinator who links residents with community-based services.

Lautz said that "quite a while ago, we had our sites sign up through LeadingAge," an advocacy group for nursing homes and senior living. That linked the sites to the CDC's Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care, which facilitates vaccine clinics between CVS and facilities.

At the end of December and beginning of January, Lautz said, Elderly Housing Management began to hear from CVS pharmacies, and "we were very clear when we spoke with them that we were not under the umbrella of LTC, long-term care, but that we serve a very similar population."

Mystic River Homes Congregate in Noank is one of four congregate housing facilities that Elderly Housing Management oversees, and Lautz said congregate facilities will be prioritized in Phase 1b.

Stonington Arms, a federally subsidized 62-and-older community, had a vaccine clinic with CVS on Jan. 16. Service coordinator Deb Mansfield also said the site signed up a while ago, and she thinks they just got lucky.

She wasn't sure of all of the details of how Stonington Arms got scheduled, as it is part of Elderly Housing Development & Operations Corp., which has 56 affordable senior housing communities in 15 states.

Not so lucky has been Solstice Senior Living at Groton, an independent living community.

"Solstice is registered everywhere necessary, but I am not getting any response to my request to set a clinic," interim Executive Director Robin Smith wrote in an update to residents last Wednesday.

Smith told The Day on Monday that because Solstice doesn't have medical services onsite, it's considered congregate housing in Phase 1b rather than a long-term care community in Phase 1a. But she said she was able to speak with someone from the state's vaccination program and "was assured that we are a priority and would be having a clinic at our communities as soon as vaccine dosages and staffing becomes available."

In the meantime, she is encouraging residents over 75 to get the vaccine offsite if they can get an appointment. Many have found this difficult.

Solstice resident Margaret Wilson, 85, said last week that while she has a car, many residents don't. She commented, "We had hoped because of the type of population that we have, that we could get a clinic set up here."

State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, who chairs the communications subcommittee of the state's COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group, also said that independent living is considered congregate housing. Overall, she said the rollout is "not a perfect system, unfortunately," and "there have been some mishaps in this system," in which ineligible people get signed up for vaccines.

"We are literally building the airplane as we're flying it, and it's changing every day," Somers said. She added, "We are critically focused on getting the 75-year-old population vaccinated, and then we're looking to go 65 and above."

e.moser@theday.com

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