Originally published on riverdalepress.com
By Pete Janny
The coronavirus hit New York’s nursing homes hard, bringing difficult times to the facilities so many depend on for later-life services.
As much as it tried, the Methodist Home for Nursing and Rehabilitation couldn’t escape that reality, keeping its Manhattan College Parkway campus closed for a decent part of the summer. But that didn’t mean all life stopped behind its walls.
In fact, it’s been rather busy. Not only were visitors welcomed back July 20, but Methodist Home also has been undergoing an $8.3 million renovation for new private residential rooms on three floors, all complete with their own bathrooms.
It’s a lot to take on — and life certainly isn’t quite normal yet with requirements like staggered schedules and temperature checks for visitors — but, at least according to facility chief executive Maria Perez, it’s getting there.
“I am extremely proud of our staff and medical team for their continued dedication and support in getting this done,” Perez said. “It was not easy, but I think through our continued vigilance, we were able to be where we are at today.”
Allowing visitors back required Methodist home to bring its coronavirus caseload down to zero, and then hold it for a few weeks. Once that was achieved, the state health department mandated no more than two guests per patient — one of them at least 18 — and no more than 10 percent of the residents are allowed visitors at any one time. All in-person visits take place outside the facility, and virtual appointments are scheduled for visitors who can’t make the trip there.
There have been no reported positive coronavirus cases at Methodist Home since mid-June until someone — reportedly asymptomatic — walked into the facility in early September and tested positive. Because of strict state regulations on such an incident, Methodist Home had to suspend visitations until Sept. 28.
Despite this setback, work at the Methodist Home is intended to maintain a disciplined approach toward restoring normalcy, Perez said. One small misstep could cause even more delays in welcoming back visitors.
“One single case of COVID in the facility means the close of visitation as per the current regulations,” Perez said.
Keeping a close eye on coronavirus cases is important, especially for nursing homes. At the virus’ peak in May, nearly 5,000 people died in nursing facilities across the state. At that point, Methodist Home reported 10 deaths.
While Perez has seen her facility fare better than others in light of the public health crisis, she can still relate to the myriad challenges and adjustments felt by just about every nursing home, and how all those teams are handling that adversity on the fly.
Although Gov. Andrew Cuomo has taken some heat for policies early on that some said required nursing homes to welcome back patients from the hospital, even if they were still potential spreaders of the virus, Perez described it as just one of many complicated decisions he was forced to make during a once-in-a-lifetime emergency.
“We understand Gov. Cuomo and his team were making very difficult decisions during the COVID-19 crisis in New York City,” Perez said. “The Methodist Home only started taking COVID patients when we knew we were able to provide the care at the appropriate level, and had the protocols in place to meet their needs.”
Even with the downtime, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to continue through years of planning to renovate part of the campus. And it’s not just new rooms.
Before the shutdown, construction for the new Rogosin Institute Dialysis Center was completed, and is expected to open later this year or early next. Rogosin is one of the larger dialysis service providers in the tri-state area, based out of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital’s Helmsley Medical Tower in Lenox Hill.
That’s coming in the future. These new rooms, however, are now.
“Our residents really appreciate the renovation we did because it feels modern and fresh while still retaining the historic character of our building,” Julia Joachim, director of social work, said “making it feel more like home than like a hospital room.”