For almost a year, residents at Caledonia Senior Living and Memory Care in North Riverside and their loved ones have endured something akin to long-distance relationships.

While family members have been able to see each other outdoors, when the weather was nice, or via Zoom, closer in-person contact has been pretty limited.

Last week, in the wake of 100 percent of residents receiving both doses of the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19, that began to change. For the first time since early March 2020, Caledonia began scheduling supervised indoor family visits in the Heritage Hall.

“We’ve gotten more institutional since lockdown, and we need to start dismantling those processes while remaining safe,” said Gus Noble, president of Caledonia Senior Living. “We took the first step to return to normal with the indoor visits at Heritage Hall. Once the vaccine is more widely available, families are going to be reconnected in a more direct way.”

Part of the strategy for ensuring that reconnection is ensuring that everyone at Caledonia Senior Living – residents and employees – are vaccinated.

St. Andrew Wearing a Mask

While the institution saw enthusiastic reception for the vaccine in January – in addition to the residents, about 85 percent of staff were vaccinated – Noble announced last week that vaccines would be mandatory for all residents and employees by March 31.

“How much we appreciate staff’s vigilance cannot be overstated,” Noble said. “If we can use vaccines to reconnect families, that has to be at the top of the list. It helps us recommit to this field of caring. It has to be as close to 100 percent as possible to be as confident as we want to be.”

Caledonia Senior Living held its third vaccine clinic on Feb. 23 to begin vaccinating those who did not receive a shot last month. Including part-time workers and third-party vendors who are onsite regularly, Caledonia employs about 100 people.

“We’re not saying you have to do it [this week], but we’re saying you need to get your first shot by the end of March,” Noble said. “Until you get it, we will not schedule you.”

Noble said he has met with staff regularly for months even prior to the vaccine’s distribution in order to answer employees’ questions and concerns, particularly from Caledonia’s employees of color.

“While I can understand it, I don’t have the lived experience to know how that feels,” Noble said. “But we made a commitment that we’d be straight and transparent, and I said, ‘If you have any questions at all, ask me and I’ll do the research,’” Noble said.

In the end, Noble said a vaccine mandate was necessary to ensure steady movement back to something approaching normal at Caledonia.

“It was clear we had to have a mandate, and it was compelled by the same philosophy that led us to test everyone once and then twice a week,” Noble said. “I told them, ‘You are the reason we have had this record of success. But, at the same time I expect this to become mandatory, so bear that in mind.”

Caledonia Senior Living had not had a single resident test positive for COVID-19 until mid-January, after residents received their first round of vaccines. The resident has recovered, said Noble, who added that he believes it was the vaccine that may have saved the resident’s life.

The positive COVID result was also a warning that Caledonia had also been extraordinarily lucky for the past year.

“It would’ve been great to go all the way through without any positives, but there is an element of luck,” Noble said. “Once it comes into the building, you really need your internal systems working.”

The vaccine mandate is another of the internal systems to prevent the spread in the future.

This article originally appeared on the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark website.

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