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After receiving vaccines, North Dakota nursing homes are ready for a new normal
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BISMARCK — Administrator Tammra Peterson knows how important visitation is for her residents at Bethel Lutheran Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Williston.

She said she still remembers when one of her residents got to see her family after missing them for months. Even though the resident has memory problems, she was able to recognize her family and smiled when she saw them.

“It gives me goosebumps even now hearing about how she lit up. She recognized her family and was just so overwhelmed,” Peterson said. “The emotions you feel, It truly is something that you can’t even explain.”

Long-term care facilities across the state have had to limit visitation as a safety precaution during the pandemic. While some facilities allow in-person visits with masks and social distancing in mind, others are only able to have compassionate care or end-of-life care visits for their residents.

At the 2021 Legislature, Sen. Kristin Roers, R-Fargo, has introduced Senate Bill 2145 which would allow residents to assign “designated caregivers.” If passed, these caregivers would be able to freely visit the resident to offer physical, spiritual or emotional support. Administrators said their residents need this support.

Peterson said since they have not been able to go 14 days without having a positive case, they have not had regular visitation since last March. She said this has been hard for her residents.

“Bethel has been pretty unfortunate when it comes to that,” Peterson said.

Facilities have had to come up with alternative ways to keep residents in touch with their families. They rely heavily on phone calls and virtual meetings like Facetime or occasionally have families visit outside when the weather permits.

Grant Richardson, a senior executive at Bethany Retirement Living in Fargo, said plexiglass barriers make all the difference during in-person visits since residents can visit with their families without a mask.

“Those have been a godsend,” Richardson said. “You can see a twinkle in an eye or a tear, but being able to see a whole face and the emotions they may be having is much more visible and makes communication easier.”

Richardson said residents also talk with their families through windows, with their hands pressed against the glass. He said he cannot describe how the sight makes him feel.

“On the one hand it’s sweet and moving, and on the other hand it’s frustrating and disappointing that we have to do that,” Richardson said.

Administrator Sandy Gerving from Marian Manor Healthcare Center in Glen Ullin said they have taken extra steps to ensure that their residents get the social interactions they need. She said the staff makes sure that each resident gets at least one visit a day to keep them in high spirits.

Gerving said with extra precautions, residents have occasionally been able to leave to see their family for special events. One resident got to attend a wedding so that he could be a part of a family photo.

“We do have some that they have gone out for a family event but then they get quarantined for 14 days when they come back,” Gerving said. “But for them, it’s well worth it.”

Mental health has been a major concern for administrators. Some residents have shown a decline in cognitive function and in their overall health. In these instances, administrators said family visitation is made a priority.

Richardson said while some of his residents have had a decline in mental health, they are coping and try to maintain a positive attitude.

“They’ve been remarkably resilient,” Richardson said. “This isn’t their first challenge and through their lifetimes, they have learned to accommodate and deal with whatever cards they have been dealt.”

The dispersal of the COVID-19 vaccine has administrators hopeful that things will soon return to normal. Peterson said most of her residents have taken the first dose of the vaccine and are ready to see their families again.

“Our fingers are crossed,” Peterson said. “It’s the first time we’ve gotten this close to that point since it all started, so we’re very excited and we’re hopeful this is going to bring a positive change.”

Richardson said everyone at Bethany who wanted it has gotten the vaccine. He said after 10 long months, residents can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“We indeed hope that this is the beginning of the end and that we can return to whatever normal is after this in the near future,” Richardson said. “We’re hopeful, and hope can drive a lot of things.”

Things to know about the COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan
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The COVID-19 vaccine rollout is speeding up, with the first doses opening up to people not working in healthcare or living in long-term care facilities.

Here are three things to know about how the rollout is going.

1 Percentage of vaccinated growing

More than 40,000 North Dakotans have been vaccinated against COVID-19 so far, including some who have had both doses of one of the newly approved vaccines. As of Thursday, Jan. 14, 41,293 North Dakotans have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine — that works out to about 5.7% of the population.

Locally, there have been 1,015 vaccine doses administered in Williams County, 164 in Divide County and 292 in McKenzie County. There were also 6,688 people who have gotten both doses of one of the approved vaccines, which is required for the highest level of protection.

2 Eligibility starting to expand

The state has created a priority list for who is eligible for the vaccine at a given time. The first group, called Phase 1A, included health care workers directly dealing with COVID-19 patients as well as residents and employees of long-term care facilities. Phase 1B is made up of a more diverse group.

Phase 1B includes older individuals, people with underlying health conditions, other congregate settings, child care workers, and employees of preschools and kindergarten through 12th grade. Phase 1C is made up of essential workers and people of any age at increased risk for COVID-19, while Phase 2 is the general public.

While there isn’t an official timetable for when phases will open up, the first people from Phase 1B had a chance to sign up for a clinic last week. The Upper Missouri Health District announced it had a limited number of doses for people 75 and older who are at elevated risk from COVID-19. That shipment has been used, but more are expected in the coming days.

3 How to get vaccinated

There are nearly 400 locations statewide approved to distribute doses of the vaccine, including 14 in Williams County and four each in Divide and McKenzie counties. They range from pharmacies to long-term care facilities and hospitals.

The state has also created a vaccine finder site so people can use to see what locations near them have vaccine available. In addition to whether the location has vaccine available, there is an explanation of what phase each location is in and who is currently eligible.

The vaccine finder is part of the NDDoH website, located at https://www.health.nd.gov/covidvaccinelocator

Williston Community Library reopens for timed book browsing
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Williston Community Library is taking the next step in its phased opening this week, allowing patrons to return to the library for timed browsing.

The library opened up last week to allow timed use for computers, printers, fax machines and copying. On Jan 18, the library’s doors opened up just a little wider, allowing for limited use of the library’s stacks. Library Director Andrea Placher said the opening will follow the same protocols as last week, allowing patrons to call and reserve time slots for their library visit. Placher said 30 minute appointments will be available each day, with one appointment allowed per household.

Monday through Wednesday has 10 slots available beginning at 10 a.m.; Thursday has 11 slots available and Friday has 9 slots. Patrons are given a timer and a basket in order to keep track of any books they have taken off the shelf, so that they can be sanitized before being put back.

Placher said that parents are welcome to reserve a time and bring their children to browse with them, but they are asking groups stay together. She added that while parents are welcome to bring children in to browse for books, there are still no games, toys or other activities available at this time.

The library has been closed to patron browsing since March, so Placher says she and her staff are very excited to be able to welcome the community back.

“When I tell you that it brings a tear to my eye, I’m not exaggerating,” Placher told the Williston Herald. “It’s just so exciting for us to finally be at this point. To see people walking through again and looking at books, it literally makes me tear up.We have really missed the people.”

Placher said this will be an opportunity for the public to also see the remodeling that has been done inside the library. With new carpet, paint and artwork, Placher said she hopes people feel like they’re stepping into a fresh library.

Services such as curbside pickup will still be available, as well as all other online services. To reserve a browsing slot, call 701-774-8805. Visit WCL online at www.willistonndlibrary.com or www.facebook.com/willistoncommunitylibrary for more information on what the library has to offer.

Rotary Club of Williston features Boys Scouts of America
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The Williston Rotary Club met on Jan 18, inviting guest speaker Rob Gilkerson of the Boy Scouts of America to share all the Scouts’ latest happenings.

Gilkerson serves as field service director for the Northern Lights Council BSA, and is a Rotarian out of Bismarck. The Northern Lights Council covers all of North Dakota, two counties in Montana, two counties in South Dakota and 19 counties in Minnesota. As Director of Field Service, Gilkerson supervises program functions and direct support to all Northern Lights Council units.

The BSA just kicked off their annual fundraising drive, “Friends of Scouting,” where local businesses, organizations and individuals are asked to help support their local troops. In the Williston area, Gilkerson said there are three Cub Scouts packs and two troops. In addition, the Scouts are looking for donations to give back to the community as well, as they prepare for their “Scouting for Food” drive, which begins in March. In Williston, the drive takes on a fun twist with “Fill a Canoe,” where a canoe is set up outside a local business and patrons can fill it with food for local food pantries.

“That’s been a huge success for us,” Gilkerson said. “We fill that canoe somewhere between seven and 15 times, depending on the year. It’s really, really fun.”

Gilkerson shared that the BSA would be working this legislative session to support House Bill 1356, which would allow for “Patriotic Societies” such as Boys Scouts, Girls Scouts and Future Farmers of America to have access to public schools to inform students about the opportunities to participate. Gilkerson added that the bill parallels a bill that was adopted in South Dakota in 2018, which has shown much success for the BSA. Gilkerson said the bill was introduced Jan 15.

To learn more about the Boys Scouts and how to get involved, visit https://www.nlcbsa.org or check out https://www.facebook.com/nlcbsa.

Public invited to COVID-19 vaccine virtual forum
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The public is invited to a free virtual forum, “Community Voices: COVID-19 Vaccine,” on Friday, Jan. 22 from noon to 1 p.m.

This forum will convene local public health and medical experts to provide information and answer questions on North Dakota’s vaccine rollout and vaccine safety. The meeting will be convened via Zoom, and audience members are encouraged to register in advance at bit.ly/CommunityVoices-Jan22.

The moderated panel will include Dr. Paul Carson, professor at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences and director of NDSU’s Center for Immunization Research and Education; Kylie Hall, Program Manager at NDSU’s CIRE; and Molly Howell, North Dakota Department of Health Immunization Program Director. Audience members will be invited to submit questions to the panelists. A video recording of the forum will be posted online for free viewing following the event.

“Many citizens have valid concerns about the vaccine, and there is a lot of misinformation circulating on social media,” said Ann Crews Melton, Consensus Council executive director. “It is important for the public to have access to verified information, and to be able to raise questions and concerns with local experts.”

This public meeting is convened by Consensus Council with support from the Impact Foundation.