Arkansas nursing homes see decline in cases after receiving COVID-19 vaccinations

Arkansas long-term care facilities and nursing homes are seeing a promising decrease in cases after most facilities have received their COVID-19 vaccine.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas long-term care facilities and nursing homes are seeing a promising decrease in cases after most facilities have received their vaccine.

Hallie Whitecotton is a nurse at Greenhurst Nursing Center in Charleston, where 99 percent of residents are vaccinated. About 80 percent of staff also got their shots.

“Most of them, as soon as we told them we were getting them, they were so excited,” Whitecotton said. “I think we’re all breathing a little easier knowing we all had our vaccines.”

But, this does not mean the nursing home is back to normal.

“We are still being very safe, we’re still wearing our masks, our goggles,” Whitecotton said.

Long-term care facilities still have to operate under the same guidelines as before. 

“The visitation policies right now, relate to the number of positives in the facility and it doesn’t correlate to vaccine status,” Rachel Bunch said.

Rachel Bunch is the executive director of the Arkansas Healthcare Association. She is working with the health department and DHS to figure out when long-term care facilities can start opening up. She is hoping for some changes by the end of the month.

“As we see facilities that have cases where the numbers go down and they are able to reopen to visitors, it will also mean they can open on the inside of the facility,” Bunch said.

The good news is cases have gone down by about 50 percent. On Dec. 28,  1,238 patients inside nursing homes and 1,033 healthcare workers were positive for COVID-19. 

On Feb. 1, 529 patients were positive along with 479 healthcare workers.

“So, I have to believe that that has something to do with the vaccine,” Bunch said.

Greenhurst is preparing to allow residents out of their rooms again.

“[The] smallest things like playing Bingo is going to be a huge thing for our residents to start doing,” Whitecotton said.

Bunch said there are 415 long-term care facilities in Arkansas, only a very few have yet to receive the vaccine. All nursing homes, which is just over 200 of them, have been vaccinated.