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Nursing home uses fun events to raise rate of COVID-19 vaccinations among staff


Photo: Wendy Hildenbrandt (left) and Linnie Clark show off the prizes and educational materials for the “Bee Safe for Summer” vaccine clinic event at Morningstar Living in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Morningstar Living.

Wearing bee-themed outfits, Wendy Hildenbrandt (left) and Linnie Clark show off the prizes and educational materials for the “Bee Safe for Summer” vaccine clinic event at Morningstar Living in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.

A nursing home in eastern Pennsylvania has found a way to get their staff buzzing about the bivalent, raising the percentage of staff who are up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccines.

In the spring of 2023, the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PA DOH) issued guidance to long-term care facilities requiring facilities to offer the COVID-19 vaccine and provide education about the vaccine to its staff.

This guidance was issued soon after the Public Health Emergency expired on May 11, 2023. A few weeks prior, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also streamlined its recommendations to only require one shot of the bivalent vaccine to be up to date.

With all the guidance changes, facility leaders at Morningstar Living began putting their heads together to think of ways to get more staff up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines.

Morningstar Senior Living Inc. – doing business as Moravian Hall Square – is a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in the town of Nazareth, about 20 miles northeast of Allentown.

While many of the staff at Morningstar Living had received the primary series of COVID-19 vaccines, only 18 percent had received the bivalent vaccine.

Like many nursing homes in the country, the facility had seen vaccine fatigue among staff.

“I think that there’s so many vaccines that they were vaccined out,” said infection control coordinator Linnie Clark. “For a while there, no one wanted to hear about any vaccines – flu vaccines, COVID vaccines.’”

So the team at Morningstar Living decided to fight fatigue with fun.

With summer just around the corner, Linnie came up with a bee-themed event: Bee Safe for Summer. And with that, the team got busy.

For several weeks, the team promoted the main event – a vaccine clinic on June 5.

Three team members – director of nursing Wendy Hildenbrandt, administrator Nancy Bullivant, and Linnie – dressed up as bees, pushing a bee-themed cart with prizes and educational materials. They visited every department and every shift in the facility so each member on staff knew about the event, had a chance to ask questions, and could sign up if they wanted.

“[The team was] putting signs up, a lot of different flyers talking about it, and building it up before the actual day came, so people were in anticipation of what was gonna happen,” Nancy said.

The theme was a hit with the staff. People laughed when they saw their colleagues parading around in antennae headbands, bee wings, and yellow T-shirts that read “Bee Safe.”

The prizes were also a big draw for signups.

The grand prize was tickets to an amusement park – either Knoebels Amusement Resort or Dorney Park.

There were also three beach-themed buckets up for grabs, which each had a beach towel, sunglasses, sunscreen, pool toys, and a pail.

Wendy said a big factor behind the event’s success was knowing what would excite the staff.

“A bunch of our staff is all about amusement parks in the summer,” she said. “They’re either at the amusement park or they’re going to the beach all weekend.”

Even with the fun costumes and prizes, the team was surprised by the number of staff that chose to sign up.

Over 20 staffers signed up, raising the percentage of up-to-date staff from 18 percent to almost 30 percent.

Linnie said it wasn’t just the prizes and costumes that got people to participate – it was the education and talking face-to-face.

While the facility sends staffers a lot of written communication about the vaccine, some still didn’t know they only needed one shot to become up to date.

“I think going out and speaking about [the bivalent], that’s what really gets their attention,” Linnie said. “A lot of people were like, ‘Oh yeah, OK, yes, sign me up. No problem.’ … It was getting out there and talking to them about it instead of just sending written material. They wanted to hear it from you.”

“Bee Safe for Summer” wasn’t the first time the team at Morningstar Living dressed in costume to raise vaccination rates. A couple years earlier, the team promoted the COVID-19 booster by making a “Ghost Busters”-themed informational video called “COVID Busters.”

Linnie, Wendy, and former Morningstar Living CEO Susan Drabic wore Ghost Busters-inspired coveralls with backpacks styled to look like the COVID-19 vaccines available at the time – Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. In the video, the three roll up to Moravian Hall Square in a white Subaru Outback with a COVID Busters logo on the side and leap out to fight COVID-19 in the facility.

The video played in the lobby at Morningstar Living to spread education about the virus and the benefits of the vaccines. While the video is now unlisted due to outdated information, it can be viewed by direct link here.

The Ghost Busters video also earned laughs among staff.

“A bunch of our staff had been talking about going to see that movie. So that’s kind of where the idea came from,” Wendy said. “It’s knowing your population of your staff as to what excites them or interests them.”

While the team at Morningstar Living doesn’t have another event planned, they might do a similar event in the fall. Next time they do, they’ll find a way to make it fun. 

This material was prepared by Quality Insights, a Quality Innovation Network - Quality Improvement Organization under contract with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Views expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the official views or policy of CMS or HHS, and any reference to a specific product or entity herein does not constitute endorsement of that product or entity by CMS or HHS. Publication number 12SOW-QI-GEN-080123-CC