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Friends and family reach out to their loved ones at Masonicare

Friends and family reach out to their loved ones at Masonicare

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WALLINGFORD — Mark Brennan has visited his 76-year-old mother Annmarie Brennan at Masonicare’s Home Health Center on weekends for 12 years, sometimes jogging over from his home less than two miles away.

That routine ended recently when Masonicare restricted building access across all facilities due to the coronavirus crisis.

“It kind of stinks when you come weekly, and you’re told you can’t come see your mom anymore,” he said.

He started phoning his mother, a dementia patient, every other day to keep him fresh in her mind, but also found a creative way to let her know he was thinking of her.

On Saturday, he brought a hand painted cardboard sign with the message “Hi Mom” on one side and “Love You” on the other to the facility.

The nursing staff brought his mother out in her wheelchair to the solarium, a glass enclosure on the second floor of the building, where Mark Brennan was waiting below.

Brennan lifted the sign above his head, catching his mother’s attention, while the nurses snapped a few photos.

The photos made their way to Masonicare’s social media. Brennan made another sign for his mother and visited her again Thursday.

Brennan flashed another cardboard sign, with “Miss U” painted in turquoise, at his mother, who was sitting on a patio next to the solarium.

They shouting greetings over the distance from the ground to the second floor patio, before Annemarie Brennan said she was cold and was wheeled back inside.

The 1,200 senior residents at Masonicare’s Wallingford campus — an independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing, rehab and hospice — were also on the minds of the student-in-residence program participants from Quinnipiac University.

Michelle Zubko and Julia Kowal, who are studying occupational therapy, moved in with the residents of Ashlar Village in August.

In light of social distancing, the students created personalized cards and letters for every resident at Ashlar Village.

The seniors themselves, cognizant of the coronavirus crisis, have sprung into action, making face masks for Masonicare staff who have less in-person contact with residents.

“As difficult as this is, that stuff just warms your heart,” said J.P. Venoit, Masonicare president and CEO. “All the challenges that you’re dealing with, when you hear stories like that, it’s like, ‘OK, I can go another day.’”

More than 125 Masonicare employees are working from home, and also making masks after hours. One retired nurse even pitched in and offered to make 30 masks by Friday.

“They want to be part of the solution to everything that’s happening,” he said.

Responding to supply shortages, anxiety

Venoit said that as of Thursday, no COVID-19 cases have been reported among Masonicare residents or staff.

Those two groups — residents and staff — are at the center of decision-making for Venoit and the leadership task force.

The biggest challenge is probably the uncertainty of a situation that’s so fast-moving, with new rules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention constantly coming out and the need to educate staff on the latest updates.

Another concern is having enough supplies of personal protection equipment. Hospitals are receiving supplies first and then nursing homes.

Masonicare recently received four boxes of assorted medical supplies like masks, gloves and shields from the Branford Armory via the federal Strategic National Stockpile.

“That’s a challenge because there wasn’t enough supplies in the first place,” Venoit said, but Masonicare’s purchasing manager has been sourcing supplies and donations also are coming in.

Masonicare has been working with other hospitals, nonprofits and skilled nursing facilities statewide to get supplies, but also the town of Wallingford.

The Town Council recently approved the purchase of 30,000 N95 face masks, some of which are slated to go to Masonicare, as well as other towns, Gaylord and Skyview.

Early on, Venoit said he realized that the anxiety of staff members and their family members may impact operations, with nonstop news coverage and skyrocketing unemployment.

He said that he’s not aware of any Masonicare staff that have been tested for COVID-19. The timeframe for getting results seems to be longer than anticipated, which poses a challenge if a family member is being tested, he said.

All residents that have been tested have had test results come back negative.

Masonicare had some help in preparing for coronavirus from a former Connecticut caregiver who works at the Life Care Center nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, an early epicenter of COVID-19 where the first U.S. deaths were reported.

“She actually gave us some great pointers,” Venoit said, like being aware if any staff members also work at another skilled nursing facility to prevent the virus from spreading.

“You don’t realize how small the world is until something like this happens,” he said.

LTakores@record-journal.com203-317-2212Twitter: @LCTakores

Peter Xenakis works at the front desk of Masonicare at Ashlar Village where visitors are being asked to refrain from visiting residents if experiencing any cold or flu-like symptoms, Wed., Mar. 11, 2020. Dave Zajac, Record-Journal
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