WENATCHEE Residents of local senior living centers are starting to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, but when depends on the pharmacy those centers use.

Highgate Senior Living vaccinated some of its residents on Tuesday, said Jean Lehman, the senior living center’s executive director. The Cashmere Care Center reported it planned to vaccinate residents on Tuesday as well.

Bonaventure Senior Living is scheduled to start vaccinating its residents on Jan. 22, said Jeremiah Gray, director of operations for the East Wenatchee facility.

The difference in vaccination dates involves what pharmacies each of these senior living centers worked with before the pandemic even started, Lehman said.

The Chelan-Douglas Health District does not have direct involvement in the vaccination process, but is trying to coordinate with the state Department of Health where vaccines are going, Chelan-Douglas Health Officer Malcolm Butler said. The state Department of Health is the lead agency keeping track of distribution from pharmacies.

“So what the health district is trying to do is basically act as air traffic control,” Butler said.

Confluence Health took the lead on inoculating health care workers in Chelan and Douglas counties with the COVID-19 vaccine.

Gray said his company had to push the issue to speed up the vaccination timeline. They started speaking out when they saw people in other industries, besides the medical field, get vaccinated before their care centers.

“So we started pressing our industry contacts, the Washington Health Care Association, and also Walgreens, and I’ve been saying, ‘That is not OK,’” he said.

The state of Washington has also been helping Bonaventure petition to get its residents vaccinated sooner, Gray said. The company hasn’t seen the same support from the state of Oregon, where it also has centers.

Highgate Senior Living went through Consonus Healthcare, a rehab and pharmacy consultant for senior living centers, to get its vaccines, Lehman said. Smaller pharmacies, according to Lehman, have had an easier time coordinating and getting vaccines to senior living centers than some of the larger companies, such as Walgreens.

“So they actually have better access to the vaccines, because they don’t have as big of numbers that they’re requesting,” he said.

A Consonus Pharmacy employee drove over the pass on Tuesday and mixed batches of the vaccine for the senior care center to use, she said. The company uses an RV to distribute the vaccine in Western Washington, but couldn’t use that vehicle here because of the pass.

The company doesn’t want any vaccine to go to waste if possible, Lehman said. So if the senior center needed more vaccines, they contacted the Consonus Pharmacy employee to mix more and then deliver it that same day.

Once mixed, the vaccine must be used within six hours, she said.

“So they arrived in the morning and dropped off the first batch to my nurses,” Lehman said. “Then I called them midway through, when they’re getting down to one vial each for doing the vaccines. Then we call them and they’re like, ‘OK, we’ll mix it and have it in about five minutes.’”

Highgate Senior Living will offer the vaccine to its residents three times; this week’s was the first dose out of two needed, she said. The reason for three times is because some residents may have been hesitant the first time, but are willing to receive it the second time.

The vaccination process hasn’t seemed organized, Gray said. Walgreens at first said it would have employees show up to vaccinate Bonaventure residents between a set period of time and anyone who wanted to could show up and receive the vaccine.

It’s a system that didn’t seem quite right to Gray.

“As a company we’ve organized ourselves before we even had dates (when residents would be vaccinated),” he said. “We started finding out which residents want it, which staff and which don’t, so we can assign times and actually try to do it from an organized standpoint.”

The company is happy with Walgreen's process, but felt there was a better way that would have been more streamlined, Gray said. 

Clarification: This story has been edited on Jan. 7 to clarify that Bonaventure is happy with Walgreen's process, but felt it could have been more streamlined.