Every time Adam Abeshouse is able to procure personal protective equipment (PPE) he jumps in his car and heads to the Ambassador of Scarsdale on Saxon Wood Road. When he gets there, employees graciously take the much-needed equipment and also bring along Abeshouse’s 88-year-old mother, who has been living at the facility for four and a half years. As his mother sits on an outdoor bench, Abeshouse rolls down a window to talk with her from his car — the new normal for many families since the coronavirus took hold in New York.
“I felt badly that I wasn’t able to do really anything to help my mom through this,” said Abeshouse, who has donated 40 hazmat suits, 700 surgical masks and 100 KN-95 masks to the Ambassador. “As a single person, I’m not going to have enough to supply everybody, but at least it makes me feel like I’m doing something to contribute.”
Like many senior living facilities across the country, the Ambassador of Scarsdale has not been immune to the coronavirus. According to its president, Jean Dunphy, the facility requested families not to visit beginning March 4, six days before the New York State Department of Health mandated that all assisted living facilities ban all nonessential visitors.
“Life here is challenging and we the workers sometimes get tired and a little down. When a resident dies, we do not see a statistic, we see a life lived, a life we shared,” wrote Sarah Rouke, the Ambassador’s senior director of resident services in a letter to family members. “We know the heartbreak you must feel because you are not here, and we are. Each of us equates that to our own families, whom we leave each day to come to care for yours, and we understand that being apart is very painful. Each passing is a blow and a loss, felt deeply by us all.”
The Ambassador did not respond to an April 27 request for data regarding how many seniors at the facility had been stricken with or died due to COVID-19.
“I think [The Ambassador] is doing a tremendous job in a horrible, horrible situation. They themselves are exposed every day to the demographic that this is most virulent with and they are charged with protecting those people,” said Abeshouse. “I can’t imagine that sort of pressure and I’m just so thankful that they are taking their job with seriousness and this compassion and love.”
According to multiple family members with loved ones at the facility, residents have been kept in isolation for their own protection, but communication has been forthcoming.
“To use an expression my mother used to say, ‘If you have to be someplace, this is a great place to be’ and through this whole ordeal it has proven to be,” said Lisa Alperin, a former Scarsdale resident whose 90-year-old mother has been at the facility for four and a half years.
Alperin said that once the facility began isolating residents, phone calls between her and her mother became more difficult. To remedy it, staff members set up regular Skype calls between her and her mother so they would be able to communicate.
“They are putting on the PPE to go in there so that we could be able to speak to our mother. I think it’s remarkable,” said Beth Weinberg, Alperin’s sister who lives in New Rochelle.
“We feel guilty because we feel like … we are taking so much of their time, but they are so gracious and generous because I think they know how important it is for the communication,” said Alperin.
Laura Kuller, who grew up in Chappaqua and currently has her 90-year-old parents in the facility, said her father was able to get a computer so her family and parents could FaceTime one another. Kuller said her daughter was able to perform a cooking show for her mother by using the Ambassador’s large portable television that connects to Facebook Live.
“They say how bad isolation is [for] seniors, so this really is horrifying on numerous levels, but the thing is it’s not the Ambassador or any other facility that should be faulted for that isolation because they are mandated to do that,” said Kuller. “I am concerned, but I truly believe that there’s not a kid whose parents are in any kind of facility out there who isn’t concerned about their parents more now than they were before.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nursing home populations are at the highest risk of being affected by COVID-19, given the congregate nature and resident population served.
According to Rouke, the Ambassador has taken measures to limit COVID-19 infections by taking employees’ temperatures at the front desk area prior to working, and requiring them to wash hands and wear PPE. The delivery of food for isolated residents relies on disposable plates, cups and utensils from a dining service employee wearing PPE. Employees spend three hours during the day taking residents’ temperatures and performing pulse oximetry screenings.
The facility reached out to Congresswoman Nita Lowey on March 13 seeking to receive PPE. According to Dunphy, Lowey answered the facility’s urgent call and was able to provide needed equipment. Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and Westchester County Executive George Latimer were also able to provide support and assistance.
“The Ambassador has a dedicated work force. Heroes who leave their own families each day and show up to care for our residents who are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19,” Dunphy wrote in an email to the Inquirer. “Dietary, housekeeping, maintenance [and] activity staff who never considered themselves essential workers, nor in fact did society see them as such, [showed up] when called to duty.”
Kuller said her mother was a “social butterfly” and due to being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s has found it difficult being isolated.
“We’re making the most of it, it’s not an ideal situation, but the isolation isn’t going to lead to fatalities,” she said.
Johnnie Hawkins, who is currently living in Florida and has his 83-year-old husband at the facility, said he is thinking about his partner “probably 212 times a day, if not more.”
“My husband has Alzheimer’s [and] every time we talk I have to explain to him the situation and how difficult it is and that everyone everywhere is in a similar situation. He can no longer turn on and off his television and seems only to be able to call me on his phone as he can push the recently called list. I sing to him a few songs a day to give him some distraction, but he no longer reads or listens to music. And even though they are visiting him, I am concerned that he is too much by himself too much of the time,” he said.
Hawkins said the communications from the staff at the Ambassador had been “stellar” and he was confident that the staff was able to care for his husband.
Weinberg said the staff has been contacting her and her sister about what their mother has been eating daily and has been generally keeping them informed on what’s going on at the facility.
“Obviously everybody is scared to have their parents wherever they are, if you’re lucky enough to have parents, but I feel very fortunate that this is the place that we chose,” she said.
Although communal meals are halted and the activity room is no longer in use due to the coronavirus, workers at the facility have been trying to keep spirits high. Some days, the facility’s director of music therapy will go from room to room playing music and singing with residents. Abeshouse said an employee at the facility sent him a video that featured his mother singing during the activity.
“It was kind of a little bit of normalcy,” he said. “It was kind of lovely.”