December 21, 2020, Henderson, NV, and Santa Cruz, CA – As Advent, the season of waiting, comes to a close, employees at hospitals founded by the Adrian Dominican Sisters came to the end of their nine months of waiting. Front-line employees of Dignity Health-St. Rose Dominican Hospitals in Henderson and Las Vegas, Nevada, and Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, California, began to receive vaccinations for the COVID-19 virus.
“One person said, ‘I finally feel that there’s hope,’” said Sister Phyllis Sikora, OP, Nevada Service Area Vice President of Mission Integration and Spiritual Care for St. Rose Dominican Hospitals. “They’ve been battling this for nine months and now are able to feel that they’re getting something to protect themselves and their families.”
Vaccination began at 5:00 p.m. December 16, 2020, for the hospital system’s front-line workers – those in the Emergency Department, the Intensive Care Unit, and others who work directly with COVID-19 patients. “We’re vaccinating high priorities employees and will keep going down until everyone is vaccinated,” Sister Phyllis explained. “I’m one of the last on the list.”
The vaccination process was coordinated by CommonSpirit Health, a healthcare system that includes 700 care sites and 142 hospitals in 21 states – including both St. Rose Dominican Hospitals and Dominican Hospital. CommonSpirit collaborated with the U.S. government, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of Nevada, and the hospitals to determine how many vaccinations would be needed.
Sister Phyllis said the vaccination is voluntary for St. Rose Dominican staff members. To avoid long lines, the front-line employees were invited to register for a time to receive the vaccine and encouraged to set the appointment on their last shift for the week in case they have a reaction to the shot.
While Sister Phyllis and the Mission Integration and Spiritual Care Department are not directly involved in giving the vaccines, they continued their ministry throughout the pandemic of reaching out in support to the front-line workers.
In an email announcing the vaccine, Sister Phyllis extended her gratitude to them. “We here in Mission Integration and Spiritual Care are grateful and thankful for all you have done over the last nine months,” she wrote. “You are all heroes in our eyes, continuing to care for and comfort our patients through their fear and pain.”
Members of Sister Phyllis’ department showed their encouragement by blessing the spaces where the vaccinations are to take place, as well as the first vaccine giver and receiver at each of the three campuses of St. Rose Dominican Hospitals. Sister Phyllis blessed the first two to give and receive the vaccine at the Rose de Lima Campus in Henderson, Nevada. The blessings were symbolic and meant to extend to all who give and receive vaccines at St. Rose Dominican Hospitals.
The vaccine arrived at Dominican Hospital on December 16, just as Santa Cruz, California was experiencing high numbers of COVID-19 cases, resulting in a lock-down. “Right now we’re at our peak,” said Sister Rita Eileen Dean, OP, Vice President of Mission Integration. “We still have beds available, but not many.”
Dominican Hospital “test-drove the vaccine with seven patients,” Sister Rita Eileen said. “We received somewhere close to 1,250 doses. One of the doctors said this is the best Christmas because this vaccine gives him hope.”
The vaccination clinic opened on December 17 and will be open daily from 7:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. “So far they’re making people stay for 35 minutes after they get the shots,” she explained. “They say the reaction, if there is one, will come within 35 minutes.” So far, she said, none of the recipients has had a reaction.
Dominican Hospital is first giving the vaccines to employees who work directly with COVID-19 patients. “We think the vaccine will be going to nursing homes next, and I’m hoping Dominican Oaks [where some Adrian Dominican Sisters live] will be included.”
Sister Rita Eileen said that Dominican Hospital is blessed by special resources, including a deep freezer to store the vaccine in, as well as the use of the deep freezer of nearby University of California-Santa Cruz. In addition, the hospital can handle up to 240 tests per day and sends them to the lab at a CommonSpirit Health hospital in Phoenix. “We are letting more people get testing because that was a hold-up for awhile.”
Sister Rita Eileen is realistic but hopeful. “I think it’ll be months before everyone is vaccinated,” she said. “I don’t see this ending any time soon. At least we’re on the right track. We’re moving along and this is a good Christmas. We’ve got something to work with and we can do it. There’s hope on the horizon.”