Chev battles on as COVID-19 claims more lives

  • ElderlyDeaths
“We are fighting an invisible enemy, and we are giving it everything we’ve got, but there is only so much that can be done,” says Chevrah Kadisha (Chev) Group Chief Executive Saul Tomson, as two residents in the group’s care facilities who tested positive for COVID-19 died over the past week.
by TALI FEINBERG | Jul 09, 2020

Sam Malbin from Sandringham Gardens and Dorothy Glass from Our Parents Home (OPH), both aged 86, passed away in hospital.

They are two of 34 residents across the Chevrah Kadisha’s six care facilities that have tested positive over the past few weeks as the virus spreads rapidly throughout Gauteng. The group cares for almost 1 000 Jews in these facilities, and has conducted nearly 2 000 COVID-19 tests to date.

“It all happened so fast,” says Glass’ grandson, Chad Nathan. Known as Instagram photographer @gingerwithagopro, Nathan has raised more than half a million rand to help South Africans struggling under lockdown, but the virus still hit the heart of his family. He describes Glass as a glamorous great grandmother who prized family above all else.

“She had a fall, and then she got pneumonia. She was taken to hospital and put in intensive care (ICU). She had a COVID-19 test the week before that was negative, but then she tested positive. It was extremely difficult for my mom, who wasn’t even allowed to talk to her mother, as phones weren’t allowed in ICU. My gran was put on high doses of oxygen, but after three days, she passed away. We never got to say goodbye.”

He says his family didn’t realise the risks of the virus entering the facility. “If your grandparents are alive, please call them and tell them how much you love them,” he says.

“There’s been no time for tears,” says Sam Malbin’s daughter, Heather Miller. A beloved great-grandfather, he suffered a number of co-morbidities, and it was only 48 hours between his positive diagnosis and his death.

“I last spoke to him on Friday, 26 June, to wish him good Shabbos,” says Miller. He had just been diagnosed as COVID-19-positive, but was doing well. The next night, her sister called to say he was on the way to hospital. By noon the next day, he had passed away. Miller hopes that he will never be forgotten.

A resident at OPH, Doris Medalie, aged 82, contracted the virus and has since recovered. She describes being delirious, developing a sore throat, a cough, and diarrhoea, and thinking, “This is the end.” In a voice filled with emotion, she says, “I owe the staff at Our Parents Home my life. I could not have got better care.”

“Asymptomatic staff and very frail residents are a worrying combination,” says Tomson. “Many of our residents are totally dependent on our 400 nurses and carers who are risking their lives to care for our community’s most vulnerable. They have physical contact 24 hours a day with our residents.”

Sixty-one staff have tested positive out of the Chev’s nearly 1 000 staff members (including outsourced services such as cleaners) and most are asymptomatic. If a staff member tests positive, they isolate at home.

“It’s an incredibly humbling experience to be at the Chev while facing a very destructive invisible force,” says Melanie For Ming, nursing manager at Sandringham Gardens. “In the past few months, we have seen the commitment of our staff. We could not have come so far if our health and well-being was not taken into consideration and cared for by our senior management team. We have been given ongoing training, provision of PPE [personal protective equipment] for every level of isolation, flu vaccines, and continuous moral and psychological support.”

There have also been victories in this relentless battle as at least 20 residents of Chev care facilities who tested positive are on their way to a full recovery. “Across our facilities, the vast majority of our COVID-19-positive residents are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic,” says Dr Monique Price, the group’s senior doctor.

“We had three residents in hospital. One was discharged yesterday [on Monday]. With full credit to my colleagues in the medical, nursing, and care teams, over the next few days, we will be able to de-isolate in excess of 20 residents who have recovered.”

Within most of the Chev’s care facilities, residents are confined to their rooms. “It’s a conservative approach, but seeing the way the virus is spreading around Gauteng, our residents understand. COVID-19-positive residents that are in isolation have their SATS (oxygen saturation levels) monitored every four hours, and if these are of concern, a doctor is notified,” says care manager Lijahne Beetge. The group employs four full-time doctors, and at every facility there is a doctor on site every day.

The group is advised by an independent medical advisory committee headed by Dr Richard Friedland, a member of the Chev board and Netcare chief executive. It includes pulmonologist Dr Anton Meyberg, geriatrician Dr Lara Greenstein, and cardiologist Dr Leonard Steingo.

“The Chev has also had to be mindful of the psycho-social threat to the well-being of residents now that their environment has changed so drastically,” says Glynne Zackon, the group’s manager of social services. “Added to the fact that communication with residents and between residents and their carers has been impeded by face masks that challenge their hearing and their ability to recognise people, the Chev has had to be innovative and creative in finding ways to keep them active, entertained, and emotionally healthy.

“When coronavirus is suspected or confirmed, the challenges of trying to isolate residents suffering from dementia, intellectual disability, or mental illness are complex,” she says. “This can result in resistance and behavioural challenges.

“Social workers reach out to those who are struggling emotionally, and a dedicated line has been set up so that residents can make contact with social workers. Residents are given breathing exercises for relaxation, gratitude, and positive thinking. There are opportunities for exercise, cognitive stimulation, and recreation throughout the day, every day. Residents are constantly provided with books, puzzles, and crafts. Staff take cell phones to residents and facilitate calls to family members.”

Meanwhile, a resident of Jaffa Aged Home in Pretoria who was COVID-19-positive, Lucille Sher (aged 77), passed away in hospital on the night of Tuesday, 7 July. “It’s a huge loss,” says director Mark Isaacs. He says another five residents are still in hospital. Three recently returned from hospital, 14 residents have recovered, and another 10 are on their way to recovery.

Says Tomson, “Our dedicated staff are really stretched to the limit, working in full PPE and taking every precaution. They are doing their best to communicate with families when required on an individual basis as we understand the anxiety many people are feeling.

“Our social workers and activities teams are going beyond the call of duty to assist our residents with all their physical and emotional needs. We ask for the community’s support and understanding at this challenging time.”

1 Comment

  1. 1 Vacelia Goodman 09 Jul
    As a recipient of the Chevrah Kadisha who lives thankfully away from their care facilities and who falls within the immune compromised group I've had ABSOLUTELY NO SUPPORT FROM THEM. On the contrary I've been prohibited from accessing their medical professionals bcos I'm not on any medical aid. Not even masks have been made available to us on the outside  as far as I'm aware So I'm completely stunned at such self praise from the Chev's management. Their health and other professionals were DEFINITELY lacking when supposedly caring for my late Mom and how they were instrumental in her death. Hopefully I'll get an answer to this letter. Thanks 


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