Seniors living at a Regina care home say their hopes were raised about getting their first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine — only to see their prospects for inoculation quickly dashed after names were randomly drawn out of a basket.
The incident at Qu'Appelle House in Regina has the Saskatchewan NDP accusing the provincial government of badly planning and executing the vaccine rollout, while the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) says health workers thought quickly on their feet to avoid wasting any doses.
"There are several families and residents quite upset [regarding] the vaccine administration that happened here," said Bev Desautels, the home's director of care.
Independent residents left out
Qu'Appelle House is a care home affiliated with the Anglican Diocese of Qu'Appelle and inspected and monitored by the SHA. It is not listed among the Saskatchewan long-term care homes dealing with an outbreak of COVID-19.
Desautels said she requested enough vaccine doses to inoculate all residents and staff at the facility, as well as the 15 seniors who live in an attached independent living wing.
"They are not under our care," Desautels said of the "independent suite residents," who are all above the age of 85. "However, they share meals, activities, mingling with the care residents. They are expected to follow the same guidelines as the folks whose care we are responsible for."
Late Monday morning — the date of vaccination — public health nurses told Desautels they were instructed to not administer the vaccine to the independent living residents, Desautels said. She passed on the news.
Harold Olson, who lives in an independent suite, said residents had been notified earlier in the day that everybody would be vaccinated.
"And then we were notified again at 11:30 that the nurses were not going to do the suite residents. Everybody got pretty deflated," Olson said.
'I waited and waited and waited all afternoon ... and nobody came.' - Jeanne Tweten, 98
Wendell Lindstron, another suite resident, said he has congested lungs and worries about his health should he contract COVID-19.
"It was so disappointing for me because we were supposed to get the vaccine," he said.
Jeanne Tweten, 98, said a visiting home care nurse informed her Monday morning about the vaccination plans.
"So I waited and waited and waited all afternoon. Not that I can go anywhere because I'm in isolation, but still I waited," she said.
"And nobody came."
Director of care didn't want to choose between residents
Desautels, the home's director of care, said nurses from the SHA did have the Pfizer vaccines on hand "but their hands were tied."
Scott Livingstone, the health authority's CEO, said during a COVID-19 news conference on Tuesday that while the independent living residents are considered priority vaccine recipients under the first phase of Saskatchewan's vaccine rollout, they were not scheduled to be inoculated on Monday. The patients and staff at Qu'Appelle House were, he added.
When there proved to be extra doses available, staff "thinking on the ground" inoculated six of the 15 suite residents.
"We can't take it back, with the Pfizer product, and we didn't want to waste it," Livingstone said, referring to the strict refrigeration requirements of the Pfizer vaccine.
Desautels said nurses "milked every last drop of vaccine."
"They asked me to choose six of the 15 independent residents to receive the vaccine. I was not about to choose six of my folks. I decided to put their names in a basket and had the visiting nurses draw out the names. Those were the folks who received the vaccine."
Janet Craig, resident Jeanne Tweten's daughter, said staff did all they could to have vaccinations in place.
"It really broke their heart to have to put names in a hat. My mother didn't get [the vaccine]."
Neither did Wendell Lindstron. But Harold Olson did.
"I am one of the fortunate ones," Olson said. "Now, to me, when we have to have a lottery to do stuff like this, I don't think that's right."
SHA to review incident
Olson, Lindstrom, Tweten and Craig all spoke about their experiences during a news conference hosted Tuesday by the Saskatchewan NDP.
The party's leader, Ryan Meili, acknowledged some factors, including vaccine supply, are outside the control of the provincial government.
"Organizing the delivery on the ground isn't one of them," Meili said, adding that the Qu'Appelle House episode shows "a lack of foresight and lack of communication from this government."
Livingstone said the SHA will review the incident in detail.
Premier Scott Moe, speaking during the same news conference Tuesday, said he was not familiar with what happened at Qu'Appelle House but stressed that "we do not have enough vaccines to vaccinate everyone at this point in time."
Olson said he wishes the health department would come back to the home and give shots to the other nine suite residents.
Desautels said early Wednesday morning she had not heard from the province about whether that will happen
CBC News reached out to the SHA for an update.
"Based on available supplies, we anticipate administering to the rest of the residents at Qu'Appelle House in February," an SHA spokesperson said.