CHELSEA – Barry Berman has led Chelsea Jewish Lifecare for the last 43 years and during that time he’s seen a lot. But nothing could have prepared him for the COVID-19 health crisis, which has spread rapidly – especially in senior living residences across the country.
“This is possibly the most difficult time in the 100-year history of Chelsea Jewish Lifecare,” said Chief Executive Officer Barry Berman. “Never before have we faced a situation like this one.”
In early March, there were just 30 reported cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. That’s when Berman, along with his son, Adam – president of Chelsea Jewish Lifecare – began testing the residents at the Katzman Family Center for Living; the Leonard Florence Center for Living in Chelsea; and the Jeffrey and Susan Brudnick Center for Living in Peabody. Even with the extra care and testing, 11 residents of the Chelsea nursing homes died from the coronavirus.
“The loss of our loved ones reflects the severity of this terrible disease,” said Barry Berman. “We offer our sincere condolences to their families and share in their grief. We plan to honor and celebrate the lives of those we lost once this crisis passes.”
The organization decided to lock down on March 2, days before the state banned visitors to nursing homes. They restricted visitors and only allowed essential health care personnel in their facilities.
“This situation has been so insidious that despite everything we have tried to do, people tested positively,” said Adam. Currently, 106 out of the 297 who live in Chelsea Jewish Lifecare’s facilities have tested positive.
Although the state does not require nursing homes to test all residents for COVID-19, Chelsea Jewish Lifecare took the initiative and used an outside testing laboratory. “We hired Vikor Scientific to test every one of our residents and staff as quickly as possible, rather than wait for directives from the state and CDC,” said Adam Berman. “It was so important for us to get ahead of this situation in any way possible.” Staff began working round the clock and set up COVID-19 recovery areas for those who tested positive. All recovery units, which are overseen by medical staff, are located in isolated wings at each skilled nursing residence.
All of the residents have been tested multiple times, which is not the norm at nursing homes according to Barry Berman. And while the organization is not out of the woods yet, most of the residents who have tested positive are getting better. “Due to the testing, we have information that’s allowed us to make some critical decisions,” said Adam Berman. “I really believe this data has saved lives.”
According to Adam Berman, the staff have worked diligently since the late winter to help prevent the spread of the virus. Residents and staff are screened daily for any signs of COVID-19, including taking temperatures, practicing social distancing, and delivering meals to residents’ rooms. The staff is in touch with all families on a regular basis through phone calls and emails. Additionally, the organization deployed extra mobile devices to arrange video calls with residents and families through Skype and FaceTime.
“We are so incredibly proud of our staff,” said Barry Berman. ”They have gone over and above. Clearly, they care deeply about the well-being of our residents.”
Chelsea Jewish Lifecare also has a strategic plan in place for the future. As people recover from the virus, they “graduate” from the COVID units and return to their rooms. “We do not know when things will return to normal, but with each passing day we’re seeing more and more people improve, and we’re starting to see light at the end of the tunnel,” said Adam Berman.
Elliot Katzman has been truly impressed with the way the staff has treated his father. “During this very challenging time, the staff has remained steadfast and focused on providing excellent care,” said Katzman, who speaks with his father, Myer, on a regular basis. “I appreciate the transparent communication. It has been so helpful and comforting, especially now. We feel like family is calling and giving an update – versus an institution. The staff is truly amazing.”