Vaccines arrive at North Bay senior facility, holding promise of freedom

Vaccines arriving at senior living centers hold the promise of freedom, after almost a year of virtual lock-down. 

"They thought it was never going to happen," said Paul Peck, Executive Director of Solstice Senior Living in Santa Rosa.

The much-anticipated vaccine was doled out to Solstice residents Tuesday afternoon.

"All I've heard for weeks is 'Paul did you get it set up yet, Paul, when are we going to have our clinic?'" smiled Peck. "We had only one hold-out in the entire facility, this herd will have immunity!"

There are 92 residents in the independent living facility.   

About half of them acquired the vaccine on their own through doctors or hospitals. 

On Tuesday, the remaining residents and employees signed up for the clinic, held on the outdoor patio.  

"Congratulations, time to celebrate!" exclaimed staff, as each resident completed the process. 

In case of side-effects, each spent 15 minutes in the dining room, with Gatorade on hand to speed recovery. 

"Doctor appointments are the only way I can get out," said resident Melvin Ries, who relishes regaining his freedom.

"I want to enjoy my retirement, instead of feeling like I'm in prison all the time, we can't get out and do anything!"

Protecting residents and staff meant no visitors, no activities, and everyone dining alone in their rooms.

Residents who did venture outside the facility had to quarantine afterward. 

The stress and loneliness have taken a toll. 

"Something we've noticed the past 11 months is the mental decline of some of the residents," said Peck. 

"Becoming more isolated, there's some depression and fear, not wanting to leave their apartment so this has been a day of hope for them."

Solstice resident Dee Evans, 95, walked purposefully to her vaccination, admitting she has only left her apartment a handful of times during the pandemic. 

When her daughter and son-in-law bring her supplies, she greets them at a distance at the door. 

"I leave my cart outside, and they put the bag on it, and I thank them very kindly and then I turn around and go in and that's it, that's my  connection to outside."

But Evans regards her apartment as a sanctuary, keeping her safe.

She is surrounded by her plants, and the art she has painted.

Between naps and meals, she is occupied on her iPad. 

And while she misses her weekly meal, out with family at a restaurant, she isn't rushing into normalcy. 

"I'm not going to go out and do anything until I have my second shot and they tell me I can go out and not hurt anybody and nobody hurt me," said Evans. 

Evans wishes more people had been patient in the pandemic. 

"Do what you're supposed to do and you'll get along fine, but if you go out and party just because you can, I don't believe in that."

At Solstice on Tuesday, the youngest person vaccinated was a 20-year-old staffer. The oldest, a 97-year-old resident. 

The milestone means some small group activities will be able to resume. 

After the second round of shots, comes the turning point everyone is waiting for, re-opening of the communal dining room.