By Jane Keller Gordon, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – At Building 400 – New Horizons’ assisted living facility in Marlborough – residents and staff let go a collective sigh of relief on May 1. That day, fearing the worst and hoping for the best, the community received fantastic news; no positive coronavirus findings. Among the 306 staff and residents tested, there were 300 negatives and one “preliminary negative,” now confirmed negative. Unfortunately, five vials were damaged in transit. New Horizons is awaiting guidance on retesting these five individuals.
“While these results represent a snapshot in time amid a very fluid situation, and perhaps an element of luck, we are extremely encouraged that the COVID-19 tests were all negative and wish for continued good health for our community,” said Andrew Eick, vice president and executive director of the facility, in a press release.
Building 400 qualified for no-cost testing through the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH). On April 28, members of the National Guard took samples from 159 residents and 147 staff, including 25 third party Aveanna Healthcare workers. According to New Horizons, some staff was unavailable for testing and some chose not to be tested.
Betsy Connolly, New Horizons’ vice president and deputy director, commented, “I was very touched by the compassion and respect with which the National Guard soldiers treated our residents. One guardsman, upon learning that one of our residents was a World War II nurse in the Marine Corps, thanked her for her service. In another touching moment, one of our residents, a choir member, began to sing ‘God Bless America’ upon entry by the guardsmen.”
At the time of testing, Building 400 had no cases of COVID-19. Since May 1, one resident has tested positive after returning from an extended stay in both a hospital and rehab facility. As a result, quarantine is now required of all residents who receive in-patient medical care outside the facility.
One New Horizons staff member tested positive before the May 1 testing. According to Sue Howland, client engagement manager for Cummings Properties, New Horizons’s nonprofit parent company, “This individual self-quarantined and is now fully recovered. In fact, following recovery, this individual was included in the National Guard testing and tested negative.”
It takes a village to maintain a barrier to COVID-19. With an average age of 87, there is no doubt that New Horizon’s assisted living residents are in the highest risk category. Eick has clearly led the way since the start. His Monday communications to residents, staff and family — posted on the New Horizons’ website — have provided guidance and inspired cooperation.
Back on March 3, Eick first alerted the community to coronavirus, stating that the DPH considered the risk to be low. A week later, on March 11, he announced enhanced cleaning, added hand sanitizer and touchless waste baskets, banned guests from the dining room, and requested that families limit non-essential visits.
Three days later, on March 13, Eick announced that Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Elder Affairs had prohibited non-essential visits at assisted living facilities. At that point, screening of staff and essential visitors was instituted. The dining room was closed on March 17.
Eick’s weekly postings express concern and praise cooperation.
On April 3, he said, “To our 400 building residents and families — visits to the community by anyone but licensed caregivers or essential personnel have essentially ceased. However, any time you visit and hug a loved one outside of the community, leave here to run non-essential errands, or continue to gather without sufficient social distancing (6 feet), this poor judgment at this critical juncture puts all of our residents and staff at risk.”
On a more positive note, on April 13, Eick commented, “It is with great appreciation that I tell you Easter Sunday on campus went just as requested—that is, very quiet. Thank you to families who waved from their car, who stayed in the parking lot while residents waved from the lobby, or who showed their love by staying home.”