Arc vaccinations

Elizabeth Buratto, a Lee-based Berkshire County Arc employee, receives her first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. More than 400 staff and residents at the organization have had a first dose.

More than 400 staff and residents at Berkshire County Arc residential programs have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, as most of the county’s congregate care facilities prepare for their second shots.

“This is a great opportunity for our staff, and I’m glad most of them took advantage of it,” said Ken Singer, the organization’s president and CEO. “While it is a privilege to be part of Phase One, they earned it, and I’m so proud of the way they took care of the individuals we serve.”

CVS administered vaccinations at “almost all” of Arc’s 43 residential programs over the last three weeks of January, the organization said. Several facilities that were quarantined during the vaccinations will receive their shots after being cleared by health officials.

For Colleen Lester, site manager for an Arc traumatic brain injury home, the on-site vaccination clinic brought more relief than she had expected.

“I was a little concerned and a little nervous, but once I got it, it was just gratifying,” she said. “I was like, ‘Wow. I got the vaccination. I’m somewhat covered from this COVID.’”

Lester stayed for her facility’s entire clinic, going through the side effects and the science of the vaccine with each of the six individuals who live in the home. She told The Eagle that she was pleasantly surprised to find they all were willing to receive the vaccine, even one man who typically refuses his yearly flu shot.

“I said, ‘Why are you choosing to get vaccinated?’ And he said, ‘I want to go back out into the world. I’m over COVID.’ “

Lester laughed as she recounted the memory. “I said, ‘I am, too.’”

Since March, Lester said, the home has been on semi-lockdown, with bowling nights, trips to the gym and grocery store shopping all canceled. One resident has been laid off since the pandemic began, while another is unable to go to his usual volunteer position.

Even holiday celebrations were marked by the virus. A positive test of an employee around Thanksgiving forced the home to quarantine and reduce staffing levels, she said.

“It was myself and three other staff basically working around the clock for two weeks straight, preparing Thanksgiving dinner in full PPE,” Lester said. “We really thought it was going to be a disaster, but it really came together.”

Now, she remembers the dinner fondly. The residential home, she says, was the only place she would have wanted to be that day. Still, she hopes the state’s vaccination campaign means that she will not have to repeat that experience.

“We’re hoping there’s some light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “If we can get through this, we can probably get through anything.”

Francesca Paris can be reached at fparis@berkshireeagle.com and 510-207-2535.