Onsite COVID vaccines the way forward for LTC
peopleCare is shaping the future of how COVID vaccines are delivered in Ontario long-term care (LTC) homes, thanks to a successful pilot of onsite, timely immunization of residents, staff and families at our London, Ontario campus of care.
The initiative was spearheaded by the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) as an innovative solution to the need for well-timed, ongoing and sustainable COVID vaccinations – including first and second doses – for priority groups in senior living settings. When MLHU asked local LTC Homes for volunteers to train staff and trial the process, the team at peopleCare Oakcrossing LTC were eager to answer the call to action.
“When I heard about this opportunity, I knew we had to contribute and couldn’t wait to put up peopleCare’s hand,” says Lisa Collins, Oakcrossing LTC’s Director of Care. “We need onsite COVID vaccine in LTC to maintain high rates of immunization. It’s the way forward to get those crucial doses into the arms of our residents, staff and family caregivers, as quickly as possible.”
Maintaining high vaccination rates in senior living settings is vital, especially with highly transmissible COVID variants of concern an ongoing threat. Onsite access to COVID vaccines ensures timely immunization of new residents, staff and families and adds to the layers of protection already in place in peopleCare’s LTC and retirement Homes.
LTC homes have a long history of onsite immunization, working closely with public health for decades to efficiently deliver influenza shots to priority groups each year. In fact, annual flu vaccine programs in LTC are so tried and true, they regularly achieve some of the highest immunization rates for both residents and staff, when compared across different types of healthcare settings.
In the fall of 2020, MLHU delivered over 100,000 doses of influenza vaccine through healthcare providers in its region. According to Jordan Banninga, Manager of the MLHU’s Infectious Disease Control team, this highlights the tremendous potential and willingness of LTC and retirement homes to participate in the delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“LTC and retirement homes across Ontario play a critical role at all phases of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution, including building vaccine confidence and supporting vaccine uptake for residents and staff,” says Banninga. “Ensuring ongoing protection for LTC home residents has been an absolute priority for the Middlesex-London Health Unit and we’re grateful to peopleCare for taking on the challenge.”
Immunization for LTC residents is a success story across Ontario – with COVID outbreaks in LTC homes plummeting since the beginning of the year. The rollout of COVID vaccines substantially reduced infections, hospitalizations and deaths among LTC residents and healthcare workers across the province (estimates put the relative reduction in COVID-19 mortality in LTC residents at 96% eight weeks post-vaccination). Completing and maximizing the uptake of the full vaccine series on recommended schedules is a priority for government and the health system.
One of only three LTC homes in the London area selected for the onsite program, the Oakcrossing LTC team was quickly trained and onboarded via available online resources through the provincial COVAX database. The Home receives consistent biweekly delivery of vaccines via vial or syringe, ensuring short wait times between vaccination “events” for eligible groups. Careful attention is paid to the proper storage and handling of the vaccine, and there is even a process to ensure no doses are wasted at the end of each day.
In the initial few weeks, the team ran large bi-weekly clinics, vaccinating dozens of residents, staff and family caregivers in the LTC home and in peopleCare’s Oakcrossing Retirement Living residence next door. Ongoing, the process is integrated into the role of the Home’s infection control lead, registered nurse (RN) Mazhar Muhammed, and Assistant Director of Care (ADOC) Angela Dayman, who are happy to vaccinate residents in the comfort of their room or home area.
peopleCare’s early and ongoing evaluation indicates the program has significantly increased the staff vaccination rates, decreased wait time for resident and family caregivers first dose and supported the second doses for priority groups. Oakcrossing LTC currently supports close to 200 designated family caregivers through its Family Caregiver Program. Many of these caregiving partners have been vaccinated onsite thanks to this pilot. “I feel so much better being vaccinated and knowing I’m not bringing risk to my loved one,” is a common refrain.
Continuous feedback to refine the program is built-in, with a view to supporting spread and scale to more LTC homes. And while MLHU’s program was organized around the Moderna vaccine, Health Canada announced recently it would allow the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to be stored at typical refrigerator temperatures in Canada for weeks longer than previously thought, which opens up more possibilities for vaccine supply to support consistent and sustainable onsite programs in LTC.
“We appreciate being able to break ground with this program and share learnings that will help other Homes in London and so on across the province,” says Jenn Killing, peopleCare’s Vice President Quality, Research and Strategic Partnerships. “We’re also thrilled to be able to support our residents, staff and family caregivers to be vaccinated by our team, who they know and trust. More than just being innovative, it’s the right thing to do.”