Jewish aged homes reel from outbreaks

  • JAFFA1
COVID-19 is hitting hard at Jewish care facilities across the country. Three residents of the Jaffa Home for Jewish Aged in Pretoria who tested positive for COVID-19 have since died, and nine are in hospital, of which three are on ventilators.
by TALI FEINBERG | Jul 02, 2020

In Cape Town, Highlands House Home for the Jewish Aged has a new outbreak of nine COVID-19 positive residents, and is again on strict room lockdown. Twenty-seven people of the almost 1 000 Jews living in Chevrah Kadisha care facilities in Johannesburg have tested positive for COVID-19. In Durban, Beth Shalom had a single case who made a full recovery. The other residents and staff have all been tested and the results are negative.

The Jaffa residents who passed away are Shirley Vardi (aged 92), who died on Friday, 26 June, in hospital, Eddie Karp (aged 87), passed away on Saturday, 27 June, in hospital, and Selma Abro (aged 93) who passed away at the home on Monday, 29 June.

They were three of 26 Jaffa residents who tested positive two weeks ago out of a total of 79 residents. Eleven out of 88 staff members have also tested positive.

“Eddie, your memory lives on in our beautiful gardens at Jaffa that you so generously tended to, created, and loved. You have given us a gift that will keep on giving,” wrote the home’s management on Facebook. Others called him an “icon”, and “a true mensch”.

“Shirley was the most wonderful woman. Nothing got her down, and she never complained. Selma had an amazing sense of humour, and was so proud of her family,” says the home’s director, Mark Isaacs.

He says the past few days have been “extremely difficult. Staff and residents have all had counselling, including me.

“It has been hard on staff, who know we tried our best to prevent the virus entering the home. The residents are anxious and fearful, and it has been tough for them to be confined to their rooms.”

Their spirits have been kept up by care packages and books delivered by the Chevrah Kadisha, and daily visits by an occupational therapist.

Jaffa President Lesley Beckbessinger wrote in a letter to residents’ families, “Nursing staff are continually checking the residents to see if all are okay. They are taking their vital signs twice daily. Only designated nursing staff, attired in full PPE [personal protective equipment] are visiting those who tested positive. Only designated cleaning staff enter the rooms of those who tested positive, and are also fully clothed in PPE.

“Access to the frail-care department has been restricted to authorised nursing staff. We no longer allow family members and friends to visit residents at the gate, [but] parcels can still be dropped off for distribution, and these are thoroughly sanitised inside and out before being passed on.

“Meals are delivered three times daily to their rooms in disposable containers. The menus are currently limited, but will be revisited in due course. Delivery of food is set up to get the food to residents as hot as possible.

“Our residents are anxious at this time. We welcome communication from family and friends by way of a chat on the phone and receipt of pictures of family and friends. Please keep in touch, it’s a great morale booster for them. We continue to take every precaution.”

For those with family members in hospital, it has been a difficult time. “It’s surreal,” said Kim Abrahams, speaking to the SA Jewish Report from Melbourne on Sunday, 28 June. Her mother, who is COVID-19 positive, is in an intensive care unit (ICU), sedated and on a ventilator. While it’s difficult being so far away, she knows that even if she was in South Africa, she wouldn’t be allowed to visit. “I feel so helpless ... we just wait every few hours for an update.”

Describing the events of the past week, Abrahams said her 82-year-old mother, residing at Jaffa, was feeling sick, with body aches. She has been asthmatic in the past, and her private general practitioner came to see her. It was around this time that the home tested all residents for the virus, and she tested positive.

Nurses checked on her day and night, and when her oxygen levels dropped, she was sent to Zuid Afrikaans Hospital. There was no space there, so she was transferred to Life Groenkloof Hospital and placed in high care.

“In the middle of the night, her oxygen levels crashed, and she was put in ICU and on a ventilator. Since then, her oxygen levels have slowly been improving. Apparently she is one of the better patients in ICU, but we don’t know if she can breathe on her own,” Abrahams said.  On Wednesday, she reported that her mother is breathing better and may be taken off the ventilator – a true miracle.

Being so far away, her brothers are updating her on her mother’s condition. The weekend is hardest, as there is only one doctor on call, and he is too busy to phone.

She has also found communication from the home to be sporadic at best. “The home didn’t give my mother her coronavirus test results. My brother had to phone Jaffa to find out. Staff at Jaffa didn’t tell us that my mom was going to hospital, or inquire about her condition with us once she was there. Via Facebook, I contacted the committee, and it has since been in contact with me and my brothers every day.”

In response, Isaacs says that he is deeply sorry about this miscommunication, and that he is trying his best to communicate daily with all family members all over the world, at all hours of the day and night. Committee members are now assisting him with this.

“I have no complaints about the care she has been given at Jaffa,” says Abrahams. “The staff have been amazing, and did everything they could to stop the virus coming into the home.”

At Highlands House, nine residents and one staff member tested positive over the past week. Eight of these residents are in the special care unit. At the moment, all positive residents are stable. Each positive resident is seen daily by a doctor, and symptoms are being monitored.

It’s a glimpse into what could happen in the months ahead as the virus enters care facilities multiple times. Highlands House had 14 residents and 32 staff members test positive in May, all of whom have since fully recovered. The initial outbreak was followed by weeks of no new identified cases, and the home slowly started to loosen its lockdown. However, as of Monday, 29 June, the entire home is in full lockdown once more.

At Beth Shalom in Durban, which has around 75 residents and 60 staff, workers are either living at the home or in quarantine sites it has provided. Its one COVID-positive case was picked up when a resident was in hospital, but she has since returned to the home and fully recovered.

Meanwhile, of the 27 people who tested positive in Chevrah Kadisha’s care facilities, the vast majority are asymptomatic. The group’s homes include Sandringham Gardens, Our Parents’ Home, Selwyn Segal, Arcadia, Sandringham Lodge, and Golden Acres.

“The Chevrah Kadisha Group has experienced an incremental increase in positive cases over the past week,” says Group Chief Executive Saul Tomson. “It’s extremely difficult to manage, particularly the combination of asymptomatic staff and our frail and vulnerable residents. Our medical and care teams are working tirelessly. Unfortunately, in spite of all our efforts, circumstances are beyond our control. We will continue to do everything we can, and we pray fervently for divine intervention and the protection of our community.”

1 Comment

  1. 1 Melanie Frankel 03 Jul

    My mom Selma passed away in her room at Jaffa in the early hours of Monday morning. She had been ill for the week.

    We had taken the conscious decision to nurse her at Jaffa because we knew that she would be comfortable there and that it would be easier to communicate with those caring for her. This, despite the strain that Jaffa was experiencing.

    I knew  that everyone was navigating unchartered waters and that working conditions under this "new normal" were difficult.I was in constant communication, sometimes through the night,  with her GP, the manager, the matron and the care workers tasked with caring for my mom. 

    The 24 hour, round the clock  care that my mom received at Jaffa during her last days was exemplary and she died peacefully surrounded by people who loved her.

    For this my siblings and I are extremely grateful.


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