For almost 14 months, so many numbers have been thrown at us — from how many positive cases there have been and, sadly, how many have died, to how many have gotten the vaccine and how many haven’t. What is almost forgotten are the emotions that families, friends, and co-workers expressed to each other during the early days of social distancing that began in March of last year. You see the images of health workers in their PPE hugging and consoling each other as they persevere during their daily heart-wrenching experiences. You wonder how they sleep at night.
Last spring, staff at the Bushwick Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing, over on Sheffield Avenue, expressed to me just how afraid they were. We had many patients who tested positive and some who passed away. Most were not symptomatic. The nurses were all being proactive to care for the residents here, but by the end of their shift, and sometimes during, they cried. It was heart-wrenching to see and hear their emotions and it brought tears to my eyes. If you’ve never seen what a hero looks like, look at the nurses in Bushwick: this is them, this is who they are. We had staff who tested positive but, when it was time to go back to work, they pulled through with flying colors. Unlike other facilities, we never had a staff shortage here in Bushwick. They never called out, and they all survived.
As an administrator, the biggest thing I can do is to create a positive atmosphere on the battlefield. I did this by using our facility-wide intercom system, where I would not only give positive announcements saying “great job” on a daily basis, but would play music all day over the intercom. Upbeat music, no sad songs here. “Here Comes The Sun,” “Three Little Birds,” Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” and as well as Alicia Keys’ recent frontline worker-dedicated hit “Good Job.” The power of positivity could be felt in the music. Sure some staff still cried but when they did, they turned it around, like getting a second wind. This is what music does.
A quote was plastered all over Bushwick Center and it read: “Tough Times Don’t Last, Tough People Do.” If that saying was ever so true, it was here during the pandemic and it still is. My staff would say that we all need to stay strong for the residents, their families and each other.
During the pandemic, the Bushwick Center ran a special memorial event for those who didn’t make it and for those who were hoping to survive in the hospital. After a number of speeches and remembrances of particular residents and staff personnel, the facility sent up balloons to the sky as a way of a tribute to them. We have always been one family, the residents, their families and my staff together. Nothing less. We have provided video, text and phone calls for the residents and their families with FaceTime, Skype, and any other technology possible during the COVID shutdown.
By this past January and February, after the last fall-winter outbreak, the numbers started to improve, more residents and staff had received the vaccine and we began to open slowly and carefully. Then, suddenly, a positive case came in and we needed, again, to shut our doors for safety. We finally opened, again, on April 15 to many relieved family members. For the last two weeks, we’ve seen the tears of joy from sisters, mothers, fathers, brothers, daughters, sons and grandchildren as they visit their loved ones here. Many thought that this was all a dream and many others were, pragmatic — knowing that another shutdown could happen again tomorrow. I hope not and I’m staying positive because, along with positivity, comes love of families, love of staff and this love will outweigh the pandemic at the end.
The Bushwick Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing is located at 50 Sheffield Avenue and is run by the Bronx-based business, Centers Health Care. Meir Horovitz has been an administrator at the Bushwick Center since 2017.
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Top photo credit: Centers Health Care
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