WILLMAR — Bethesda residents and staff received their first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, according to a news release from the organization.

The vaccines are part of a partnership between Bethesda and Thrifty White Pharmacy, which included education about the virus and the vaccine.

“We were able to vaccinate more than 200 people during our first round of distribution, and we anticipate receiving the additional doses needed to vaccinate additional staff, residents and tenants within the coming weeks,” Bethesda Administrator Ashley Bormann said in the release.

Fanchon Ellwood, a resident at Bethesda Grand, was the first resident to receive the vaccine.

“I have a new great-grandbaby I want to meet, and this vaccine will make us all safer so I can do that,” she said.

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Rachel Kujawa, registered nurse and 20-year employee at Bethesda, received her vaccination during Tuesday’s distribution event in Willmar.

Photo courtesy of Bethesda
Rachel Kujawa, registered nurse and 20-year employee at Bethesda, received her vaccination during Tuesday’s distribution event in Willmar. Photo courtesy of Bethesda
Rachel Kujawa, registered nurse and 20-year employee at Bethesda, received her vaccination during Tuesday’s distribution event.

“I chose to get the vaccine for my residents and their families. I want my residents to be able to see their family and friends in person again, that means a lot to me. I have a lot of hope for what this vaccine will do to give us a brighter future,” she said in the release.

Since Bethesda began regular testing in May through a partnership with a private lab, there have been a total of 89 care center residents, 29 housing tenants, and 211 total staff member coronavirus cases within its system of care, according to the release.

“Many of these positive results were asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic. Although that has been the case for most, we have endured more heartache than our staff has ever had to burden before, with the passing of 16 members of our Bethesda family,” Michelle Haefner, chief executive officer at Bethesda, said in the release.

Read more of Bethesda's statement about its COVID-19 actions.

Bethesda currently employs nearly 500 people and operates 248-licensed skilled nursing beds and 132 senior independent and assisted living apartments in Willmar and 20 assisted living apartments in Olivia, alongside its alternative community-based services.

Bethesda's care center is ranked as the sixth-largest skilled nursing facility in Minnesota, Haefner said in the release, but its design uses "neighborhoods of approximately 20 residents each." The design has a positive impact on quality of life and also was integral "in protecting our most vulnerable populations," she said.

According to the release, their most recent testing showed an almost zero percent positivity rate.

Bethesda is a not-for-profit social ministry organization serving seniors in west central Minnesota through residential and community-based health and wellness services.