For the last month, the new normal for Nicole DeMayo’s workday is nothing she could have imagined.
DeMayo, a registered nurse at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center at NewBridge on the Charles, has been part of a COVID-19 unit since April that includes a doctor, certified nursing assistant and housekeepers. The Dedham facility is one of six locations that are part of Hebrew SeniorLife, where DeMayo has worked for 17 years.
“I arrive at work and am in full PPE before I enter the unit. Once we’re on the unit we can’t leave until the shift is over, in order to protect staff on other floors and non-COVID patients,” DeMayo said in an email. “Working in the PPE is difficult, it’s hard to breathe under the mask and gets very hot under the gown.”
As of April 30, Hebrew SeniorLife’s Dedham campus has had a total of 44 cases of COVID-19, of which 17 patients have died, according to its website. At its Boston location, there have been a total of 130 cases, of which 31 patients have died.
Hebrew SeniorLife’s other residences also have not been spared. As of April 30, the Jack Satter House in Revere had 23 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among residents, with 11 deaths due to the virus. The vast majority of cases occurred before April 3, shortly after the quarantine was put into effect, according to Margaret Bonilla, a spokeswoman for Hebrew SeniorLife. Since then, the rate of new infections has dramatically slowed.
As of April 29, Hebrew SeniorLife’s Orchard Cove in Canton had a total of 28 cases of COVID-19 among residents in all of its sections, with 4 deaths. At NewBridge on the Charles, 6 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed among residents at its independent living community and assisted living quarters, with 3 deaths among those in assisted living. Center Communities of Brookline had 1 death and at the Simon Fireman community in Randolph, 3 residents have contracted the virus, and 1 has died.
“I put on a brave face and stayed strong not only for my patients, but for their families, for my family, and for the other staff members on the unit,” said DeMayo, who was raised in Mansfield and earned her nursing degree from Laboure College. She called the work physically and emotionally draining. “You make bonds with not only the patients but also with the families.” She said the staff offers comfort by holding patients’ hands, FaceTiming with their families and singing.
DeMayo’s home life has also been upended. She is no longer living at her home, but is staying at a hotel near the Dedham campus. Beginning April 6, Hebrew SeniorLife began offering temporary accommodations free of charge to its direct care staff at its Boston and Dedham locations. About 50 employees are taking advantage of the no cost accommodations.
DeMayo made the move because she was fearful of jeopardizing the health of a family member who’s recovering from cancer. “I was concerned and wanted to keep him safe by keeping my distance,” DeMayo said. But it has come at a cost to the nurse: unable to see her family or friends, she feels isolated.
Access to housing is one safeguard that should be available to all direct care staff working with people with COVID-19, said David Schildmeier, director of communications for the Massachusetts Nurses Association. “These folks are going to work every day and risking their lives and their families. When you don’t provide the caregivers with the protection they need, they can spread the virus,” he said.
The pandemic has been devastating to those who depend on nursing homes, particularly in Massachusetts, according to Lou Woolf, president of Hebrew SeniorLife.
As of April 30, just over 12,000 residents and health care workers at long-term care facilities were infected with COVID-19. COVID-19 has claimed the lives of 2,101 people at these facilities. The deaths represent nearly 60 percent of all fatalities in the state, one of the highest rates in the country.
Hebrew SeniorLife was recently tapped by Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders to be part of the state’s COVID-19 long-term care command center, and will share its expertise in best practices in infection control, PPE and testing.
At the Jack Satter House in Revere, Claire Sandler praised the facility’s staff and reflected on the quarantine. Before the quarantine, she enjoyed the food, the exercise room and all of the activities. Now, she’s impressed with the effort staff is taking. “They are doing an excellent job, working hard to keep us happy,” said Claire, who lives at the Satter House with her husband Larry.
Her morning now starts with a walk inside the building – which was forbidden last month when the building was under strict quarantine. In addition to delivering meals and other necessities, staff regularly treats residents to goody bags and outdoor sing-alongs as residents listen from their patios.
“I can’t say enough,” said Sandler, a former Swampscott resident, who also served as president of Temple Sinai. Her positive outlook helps against the backdrop of devastating COVID-19 illness and deaths at the Satter House. “It’s absolutely heartbreaking, no question.”
She supports the quarantine as the best measure to keep residents and staff healthy. “I feel safe,” she said.