Pioneer Place resident Joan Ash receives the Covid vaccine during a clinic held last week at the local care facility. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

VALE – The day Joan Ash moved to Burns from Washington state in 1952, the town was covered in snow.

“Three feet of it. I’d never seen that much snow,” said Ash.

Ash has seen and done a lot in her 88 years. She endured the death of her first husband from cancer, raised her children and worked at a Burns grocery store as a bookkeeper.

Last week, though, Ash experienced something new.

She was one of 21 residents at the Pioneer Place skilled nursing center in Vale who received the Pfizer Covid vaccine. The vaccine requires two shots, separated by 21 days, to be effective.

The residents were among the first Oregonians to get vaccinated, just behind health care workers.

The Pfizer vaccine arrived in Malheur County Dec. 15 when Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario received 975 doses.

Hospital workers, health care providers and residents of long-term care centers – along with staff – were selected to receive the vaccine.

Broader distribution to the public of the vaccine is expected to be months away.

Ash said she wasn’t worried about the vaccine.

“If they say it is necessary it probably is. Even if not, I can’t see any harm. I don’t think I will have a problem,” said Ash.

Ash received the vaccine in the facility’s dining room which, because of Covid restrictions, has not been in use for months.

After each resident received the vaccine they waited for a short period while Pioneer Place staff watched for any severe reactions.

Chris Monroe, the facility administrator at Pioneer Place, said residents received vaccinations Dec. 23. He said 15 Pioneer Place staff also received inoculations.

Ash said she came to Pioneer Place from Burns after she “started falling and blacking out.”

Ash said while she has not been sick, the pandemic impacted her life.

For example, Pioneer Place stopped regular visits by family of residents in response to Covid. That’s been hard, said Ash.

“I have a grandbaby and he has not been hugged by his great-grandmother. That sucks,” said Ash.

Lexie Browning, a registered nurse who is the facility infection prevention specialist, said the staff at Pioneer Place recognizes the Covid restrictions are difficult for residents.

“Early on there was frustration – ‘I want to see my family members.’ Now it’s an appreciation where they say ‘we see you guys struggling right along with us,’” said Browning.

She said Covid “changed the way we do everything.”

That included how meals are served.

Before the pandemic, residents used the dining hall but now they take their meals alone in their rooms.

“It’s human nature to be frustrated,” said Browning.

Browning said Covid also changed her everyday actions.

She must change out of her work clothes before entering her home.

“You run into the shower and then your role as mom starts,” said Browning.

Other things are different now, too, said Browning.

“Just hugging. Someone is having a bad day and you want to give them a hug but now you have to do a lot elbow touching,” she said.

Browning said the vaccinations make it feel “like it is the first step toward the end,” said Browning.

Ash wasn’t spending much time pondering Covid or the vaccinations.

“If I get sick I will cry. But until then I am not going to worry about it,” said Ash.

Pioneer Place is a government entity providing skilled nursing, assisted living and rehabilitation services.

A five-member board of local residents oversees Pioneer Place.

The facility is funded by a local taxing district.

Pioneer Place opened in 2003 and employs 70 to 80 people with a payroll of about $2.3 million.

Previous coverage

Ontario hospital among first in Oregon to get Covid vaccine, state says

Ontario hospital receives first doses of Covid vaccine

Pioneer Place deals with Covid outbreaks

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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