Jamaica nursing home welcomes families for Thanksgiving celebration

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Residents at the Margaret Tietz Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Jamaica will be able to celebrate Thanksgiving with some familiar faces as they welcome some of their loved ones into the facility for in-person holiday celebrations. 

This year’s Thanksgiving celebration is organized differently amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as families were asked to schedule visits several weeks ago to ensure that the number of visitors remains limited to maintain proper and safety guidelines at the center, located at 164-11 Chapin Pkwy. 

“We’re trying to have the celebration in a way that’s memorable, happy, and we can celebrate it together within the facilities,” said Kwang Lee, administrator of the center. 

The 200-bed facility, with mostly private and semi-private rooms, has five residential units, where residents are cared for around the clock by an experienced, compassionate staff of 300 dedicated employees.   

Each unit is decorated with fall foliage reflecting the season, bouquets of flowers and special place settings for the Thanksgiving meal. 

The residents will be video chatting with their loved ones during the celebration, while some family members are also welcome to visit, Lee said. 

“This gives us an opportunity to prepare for future holidays coming up, such as Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s,” Lee said. “I know it’s not going to be a Dick Clark moment this year, but am sure we are going to have celebrations here to kick off 2021.” 

The center has been adhering to strict guidelines in an effort to keep their residents safe, according to Linda Spiegel, director of public affairs at the center. 

Employees are mandated to get weekly/bi-weekly testing; negative tests on all patients are required prior to admittance into the facility; a retesting of patients is required upon admission and at the 72-hour mark; and the nursing home has instituted a designated admission unit, scheduled visitation and proof of COVID negative test results on visitors. 

Only two family members per resident can schedule an online appointment to spend time with their loved one from a social distance in the facility. 

It’s a long way from March, when visitation was banned early on upon news of the virus that was spreading globally and then in New York City. 

Thanks to technology, the center was scheduling approximately 12 to 18 video calls per day, so residents could chat with their families. Additionally, for special occasions, residents could see their family members in the center’s garden, separated by a glass wall.  

“We were hoping for the best and preparing for the worst,” Lee said. “At the time, we didn’t know much about the coronavirus and the CDC hadn’t come out with guidance or communication to prepare.” 

In preparation for the inevitable, Lee says they had to rely on their experience, skill set and policies designed for general infection protocols. They had received PPE such as face masks, shields, gloves and gowns. 

While hospitals were becoming overwhelmed with an influx of COVID-19 patients, Gov. Andrew Cuomo had instituted an executive order mandating that nursing homes accept those patients. 

“As a facility, we held off for as long as we could,” Lee said. “We were fighting it, going to battle with some of the hospitals. Inevitably, it came to a reality where patients started coming in.”

According to Lee, COVID-19 patients who were either asymptomatic or tested positive were brought into available single units, separated from the residents. 

Since their reopening in June, the center hasn’t had any incidents, Lee said. 

They have encouraged their residents to not watch the news and instead communicate with their staff members and housekeeping, who give them reassurance, hope and patience. 

“In the beginning, we had a bunch of hurdles to go over in this building, and all along we were really prepared and we kept the families in a loop,” Spiegel said. 

Looking forward, Lee says they’re very hopeful for the future and that the facility will be defined for their incredible work. 

“What we stand for still holds true even during this trying part of our history, and we’ve never labored on our mission providing care for our patients,” Lee said. “I truly thank the community for that.”