Sholom CEO Barb Klick decided that the only way her organization can have the trust of the community during coronavirus is to be transparent. And where many states and congregate living facilities are hiding the numbers of cases they are facing, Sholom is putting their information front and center.
“It was our choice to say that people should know so they can make choices if their loved one is here,” Klick said. “Or if they work here or are applying to work here, what kind of conditions they are working in. It’s important that we live to our Jewish values and to Sholom values. No one ever wants to be in the paper for the wrong reasons. The way to disarm it is to say there’s no story.”
Klick was always anticipating that Sholom would be faced with cases.
“This virus is invisible and people are shedding it before they have symptoms,” she said. “The natural inference is that it’s going to come. If the White House can’t keep it out, how can we?
“The industry mortality rate in congregate living facilities is about 4-to-5 percent. At Sholom, we’re at 1.92%. I say to the staff: ‘Every loss is devastating. But have some hope. We’re saving lives. Know that you are doing good work.'”
According to the dashboard on Sholom’s website, which is updated daily, there are 36 positive resident cases of coronavirus between the Ackerberg Campus in St. Louis Park and the Shaller Campus in St. Paul, and 15 positive tests of resident-facing staff. There are 99 negative tests of residents.
There have been 14 residents who passed away from COVID-19, and earlier this week, David Kolleh, Roitenberg’s Hodroff Memory Care Program Manager in St. Louis Park, became the agency’s first staff person to pass away from coronavirus. He was 62 years old.
“David was a much-beloved employee,” an emotional Klick said. “It was very hard to tell the staff and the families.”
Kolleh is survived by his wife Joetta, and 13 children.
“Anyone who met David was touched by his engaging smile and his unique ability to connect with others,” wrote Sholom’s Paula Castle and Leanne Wollerman in a letter sent to memory care families. “David leaves a legacy as a compassionate caregiver who treated residents with dignity, respect, and most importantly, love. David exemplified the idea and the spirit of everyone deserves Sholom.”
A GoFundMe was started Tuesday to benefit Kolleh’s family and has already surpassed its $15,000 goal.
That Roitenberg has the largest cluster of cases at Sholom, doesn’t surprise Klick.
“They will not remember to wear a mask or stay sequestered,” she said. “We don’t have one-to-one staffing, so we can try to explain it to them and start them on a puzzle, but when [the staff] goes to get medicine for another resident, for example, they’ll see the resident (they were trying to divert) walking around with three other people. It becomes a challenge to everyone.”
The most at-risk population are those who are older or have co-morbidities, which is the vast majority of Sholom’s more than 700 residents.
“We have aged residents, and about 86 or 87 percent have co-morbidities and live in close proximity to each other,” she said.
The lack of testing and protective equipment are two of the biggest hurdles facing Sholom. When the crisis started, there weren’t enough cloth masks to give the residents, and getting gowns and N95 masks are still a struggle.
Last week, however, the St. Paul Jewish Federation helped by delivering 1,000 Keter Face Shields from the agency’s Partnership 2Gether region in Israel. The Minnesota National Guard will start ramping up the testing of residents and employees.
Unfortunately for families wanting to visit their loved ones, despite the relaxation of some of the stay at home regulations. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services does not recommend opening facilities to visitors until: there have been no new, nursing home onset COVID-19 cases in the nursing home for 28 days (through phases one and two); the nursing home is not experiencing staff shortages; the nursing home has adequate supplies of personal protective equipment and essential cleaning and disinfection supplies to care for residents; the nursing home has adequate access to testing for COVID-19; referral hospital(s) have bed capacity on wards and intensive care units.
“I long for the days when hallways are filled with relatives because our residents are so isolated,” Klick said. “Our staff is also the mailman and counselor and podiatrist and beautician. We love serving, but it’s wearing.”