JAMAICA PLAIN, Mass.—Staff and residents at the Armenian Nursing and Rehabilitation Center (ANRC) are breathing a collective sigh of relief this week following their first round of vaccinations against COVID-19.
The onsite, day-long clinic was carried out by Walgreens on Monday as 50 residents and dozens of staff members were administered the Pfizer vaccine.
“It offered tremendous hope and validated what everyone had hoped for in the new year, and that is that we can get our arms around this pandemic, reduce the illness, reduce the fatalities and bring some tender loving care back into the lives of our patients and residents desperate to receive it,” said ANRC CEO Scott Ariel in an interview with the Weekly.
Ariel, a longtime healthcare professional who has been at the helm of this 105-year-old organization for only a month now, said that while Monday’s long-awaited clinic was a success, he did have to manage a frustrating postponement days before the new year. The ANRC was supposed to close out 2020 as a participant in this crucial phase of the nationwide vaccine rollout on December 28, but in a last-minute decision by health officials on Christmas Eve, the clinic was postponed until after the New Year—a surprising and most unwelcome turn of events for a highly susceptible facility that simply could not wait any longer. “We have a large, frail patient population, and we are doing everything to mitigate COVID from entering the building,” said Ariel. “We must be a priority.” He told the Weekly he worked tirelessly to move up the clinic date as early as possible while repeating the time-consuming process of securing new consent forms from concerned families who have been cut off from their aging loved ones for almost a year.
“It’s painful to give that message that you can’t come in,” said Ariel. “It’s more painful—with my set of eyes—to watch a day in the life of isolation.” Forced to impose and observe strict protocols in its community, the ANRC has been trying hard to fill the void of bedside visits and joyful birthday celebrations with video calls on tablets and virtual visits to museums for some intellectual stimulation. “Thank God for the telephone!” exclaimed 87-year-old Anahit Khanvegian, whose family lives in California. The Roslindale native, who has been a part of the ANRC community for four years, told the Weekly she’s feeling fine after getting vaccinated this week. “It’s part of life. We have to try to deal with it,” said 85-year-old fellow resident and self-proclaimed “people person” Ruth Jones. As vice president of the ANRC’s resident advisory council, Jones tries to build a supportive community around current events during regular meetings with the residents. “To me, it’s a positive thing,” she said of the vaccination. “I feel as though to sit back and do nothing is no good. I think it’s wonderful.”
With more than half of its population over the age of 85, the ANRC has been on lockdown since the outbreak of COVID-19 last March. Visiting restrictions are still in place, and testing is conducted twice a week. It’s a massive, but necessary undertaking to protect the vulnerable and high-risk population that has lost 34 of its residents to COVID-19. “They buried folks with tablets in their hand,” recalled Ariel of his staff members’ final moments with their dying patients. Ariel says it has been a traumatic time for his selfless and dedicated team—the nurses, the aides, the physicians, the cleaning crews and kitchen staff. “We choose to be in this field because we care about people who can no longer care for themselves,” he said.
ANRC residents and staff, as part of the recommended dosing schedule, are now looking forward to their second administration of the Pfizer vaccine in two weeks.