KIRKLAND, Wash. - Residents and staffers at Life Care Center of Kirkland got their second dose of the coronavirus vaccine on Monday, a symbolic step in the fight against COVID-19.
The facility was the first in the country to report an outbreak of the virus.
"This shot is for everybody. I’m ready," said Alice Cortez, a nurse manager, as she was receiving the shot.
When asked, how it makes her feel, she replied, "relieved."
Cortez and other staff members experienced the darkest of days at the skilled nursing facility, starting in late February of last year. Thirty-nine residents died over a four-week span from complications of COVID-19 when the outbreak first began.
"The hardest part is how do you explain to their family what is going on with their loved one," said physician's assistant Christy Carmichael, crying as she relived the painful experience. "It’s very emotional to see all of the loss."
Carmichael ended up catching coronavirus and has since recovered.
For her and other staffers, Monday was a day to reflect on the lives lost, while rolling up their sleeves to do their part in fighting back against this awful virus.
"It’s relief. It’s hope. It’s joy. It’s a new beginning. It’s faith. It’s everything," said Ellie Basham, the executive director of the center.
The final round of vaccines was emotional for everyone involved.
"There will always be a little piece of me left here after going through this," said Nancy Butner, who served as executive director of the center for 14 years.
Butner now oversees 26 skilled nursing facilities throughout Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Twenty-three of those centers have experienced a resident outbreak of the virus.
"When you don’t work in healthcare, COVID may feel different," Butner said. "But when you have the obligation to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves, it feels different."
She said 95% of residents and 87% of staffers at Life Care Center of Kirkland are getting vaccinated. Those who are not getting the shot cited medical and religious reasons.
"It probably the most important thing we have to end this, I believe, is getting the vaccine," said Chelsey Earnest, a director of nursing services who worked night shifts during Kirkland's outbreak.
She and others hope the shot may help this nursing center that’s seen such heartache finally heal.