GREENPORT, NY — The Peconic Landing retirement community in Greenport, hit hard by the new coronavirus, reported a total of 12 deaths Wednesday and sent a letter to the community aimed at providing answers and clarifications to the “questions, concerns and some confusion” that have arisen since the outbreak at the facility.
A number of questions were addressed, including was why there has been a discrepancy between the number of deaths reported at Peconic Landing and the number reported by the state.
The five-page letter was written by Peconic Landing's President and CEO Robert Syron and sent by Goldman & Associates Public Relations, the Virginia-based firm now handling Peconic Landing's outreach.
Following is the letter in its entirety:
"A letter to our community,
We would like to express our deepest gratitude for the love and support we have received from our members, their families and the greater community while we have been battling this unprecedented global pandemic. We understand there have been questions, concerns, and some confusion regarding what is happening at Peconic Landing. Please allow us to answer some of your questions.
"In order to ensure the highest level of safety, over the last two months we rapidly changed how we provide all services and care to protect the entire Peconic Landing family of over 700 lives from COVID-19. In February, even before the Department of Health began to provide specific COVID-19 guidance, we began implementing protective measures. By the time we started receiving protocols from the health department and the CDC, we found we were most often ahead of their directives. Some of these early efforts included educating the Peconic Landing family on the potential of an outbreak, refining infection control protocols, instituting a no-handshake policy, systematically closing each neighborhood to outside visitation, enhanced sanitizing and disinfecting throughout the community, screening our team members, and securing supply chains for food, PPE, and essential supplies.
"However, as you likely have heard, government and health officials have now concluded the virus was present on Long Island weeks before the first positive case was identified. Despite our extensive early efforts, the virus was already on our campus. How it got here remains unknown, just as much still is not known about COVID-19 in general. What’s most important is that once we determined our community had been exposed, we further upgraded all of our safety protocols to minimize the spread throughout the campus. At this time, testing was only available to people displaying certain symptoms. We had our members isolate in their individual homes across all neighborhoods.
"We also worked to identify members and team members who may be carrying the virus. Team members with symptoms were required to stay home and seek medical attention. Any team member who had a direct exposure to a positive case of COVID-19 was also told to quarantine at home and monitor for any symptoms arose. In both situations, we paid these employees during their time away from work, a commitment we made even before the executive order requiring employers to pay employees in quarantine.
"Regarding members displaying symptoms in our health center, we notified the Department of Health. Early on, the department would come to Peconic Landing and perform COVID-19 tests, but only for people displaying symptoms and those who had direct contact with a positive case. Its testing identified positive cases in two of our health center neighborhoods, Harbor South for memory support and The Shores for skilled nursing. Because of its testing policy at that time, the Department of Health did not test asymptomatic members who had no direct contact with a positive case in either of the neighborhoods or anywhere else within the health center.
"With those positive cases confirmed, we put enhanced safety measures in place to ensure proper care of these individuals while minimizing the potential spread within those neighborhoods and to other areas within the health center. These additional measures included enhanced PPE as well as ensuring that each neighborhood had assigned team members that only provided care in that specific area.
"As time progressed and more retirement communities and senior care centers began battling COVID-19, the Department of Health changed its testing policy. It would no longer come on campus to perform testing. We were told anyone displaying symptoms of a respiratory illness should be presumed positive and treated as such. We already had these protocols in place. Our challenge at this stage concerned the broader campus. We still had no way to know if a member was positive for the virus, and if a team member without symptoms was bringing it on campus.
"Receiving no further guidance or testing from the Department of Health, we began seeking our own ability to test both members and team members using other sources. It was not an easy task. Many testing providers weren’t yet able to test people without symptoms. Ultimately, we found a lab with that capability, but it didn’t have permission to provide tests in the state of New York. We advocated on their behalf and within a week they received approval.
"Testing has been in very high demand as you well know, so we were very fortunate to attain the ability to test asymptomatic individuals on our campus. To address this challenge, with the assistance of our medical director, Dr. Nathanial Desire, we identified and began testing groups of asymptomatic individuals who presented a high risk of spreading the virus into areas where it had not yet been found. They included health care workers, dining employees, delivery teams, employee screeners, security personnel, housekeepers, transportation, and reception. We also screened members from Harbor North for assisted living and Harbor South for memory support. The results were promising and useful in further reducing the risk of additional spread. Through this process, we identified team members who were positive but had no symptoms and placed them on paid leave while they recovered. We also identified members who were asymptomatic but tested positive.
"It’s important to note that many communities are following the guidance provided by the Department of Health and are not testing on their campuses. In deciding to test at Peconic Landing as a protective measure, we knew it was possible we would have a higher number of reported cases as a direct result. However, ensuring the safety of our members and our team was and is of course what matters most. We will always do what is in the best interests of our members and our team members.
"Questions have been asked regarding the total positive cases on our campus. There has also been confusion about information we have previously supplied compared to the Department of Health report on deaths at nursing homes across the state. To clarify this confusion, it is important to first explain that Peconic Landing in its entirety is not a nursing home. Peconic Landing is a CCRC, or Continuing Care Retirement Community. A CCRC provides different levels of living on the same campus.
"We refer to these levels of living as neighborhoods. Our neighborhoods are: Independent Living, Harbor North for assisted living, Harbor South for assisted living for memory support, The Bluffs for short term rehab, and The Shores for skilled nursing. Just two of these neighborhoods fall under the licensure of a skilled nursing center, or for purposes of this clarification, a 'nursing home.' They are the Bluffs and The Shores. This is crucial to know, because the Department of Health nursing home report pertains only to deaths that have physically taken place in nursing homes. It excludes the deaths of individuals who resided in other levels of living. It also excludes nursing home members who have passed away at hospitals. We have received requests regarding the overall numbers of positive cases as well as the total number of deaths pertaining to our community. We believe in full transparency; therefore we were reporting those numbers when others were not.
"Unfortunately, as a result of the publicity that came from being forthright, our Peconic Landing family was inundated by harassing messages, phone calls, and individuals who were trying to come on campus despite it being closed to non-essential visitors to prevent the spread. This interference threatened to distract us from what we needed to do to protect our community and provide the high level of care and service our members deserve as the pandemic continued to rage in the region and across the nation. While continuing to communicate with our members, team members and families, we reduced external communication for a period of time so we could focus entirely on safeguarding our community.
"Our total number of team members who tested positive for COVID-19 was 40 out of 377 team members; 31 of these employees have fully recovered. Less than three percent of our total employees are currently recovering from COVID-19 and are on paid leave. We are in communications with them. Our staffing levels remain high and we are fully able to provide services and care across our campus. Due to our early efforts to secure PPE as well as the many generous donations we have received from both government officials as well as caring community partners and members we have the PPE we need to ensure the safety of our members and our team and reduce the risk of spread. We are however continuing to accept donations of PPE because no one knows when the pandemic will end. We will share any PPE we do not need with our local hospital and other senior care centers as necessary.
"Our total number of members who tested positive for COVID-19 was 26, listed by neighborhood as follows":
Independent Living: 3 positive cases, 1 death, 1 recovery (1 currently recovering in the Shores)
Harbor North: 6 positive cases, 2 deaths, 4 awaiting recovery; 1 transitioned to the Shores.
Harbor South: 6 positive cases, 2 deaths, 4 recoveries
The Shores: 11 positive cases, 7 deaths, 4 recoveries
The Bluffs: 0 positive cases, deaths or recoveriesI
In total, 26 members tested positive, a total of 12 have died, and 9 have recovered, with 5 awaiting recovery, Peconic Landing said.
"The loss of these precious members has affected the entire Peconic Landing family. The fact that social distancing prevents celebrating their lives as a community makes the sorrow even deeper. Bereavement counseling is available to both members and team members as we work through this period of grieving. The entire Peconic Landing family expresses our deepest condolences to the loved ones and friends our beloved members have left behind.
"The amount of active positive cases has decreased since our initial reporting. We are encouraged by the ever-growing number of recoveries. The safety protocols we implemented coupled with identifying asymptomatic individuals through our own testing efforts have mitigated the spread of the virus across our community. The Bluffs for short term rehab remains COVID-19 free, and Harbor South for assisted living with memory support is also now COVID-19 free. The members in the Shores for skilled nursing and Harbor North for assisted living are currently stable.
"As we continue to maintain our safety protocols, we are aware of the impact self-isolation is having on our members, by far the majority, who have not been exposed to the virus. Our mission has always been to provide opportunities for our members to live a vibrant life full of opportunity, engagement and purpose. It has never been more important. We have adjusted our operations to provide services to our members in new ways despite the challenging environment.
"Dining service continues for our members by means of a daily delivery. Cultural, educational and fitness offerings are provided on our in-house TV channel. Several of our members continue to host lectures and classes virtually from the safety of their living rooms. Our fitness team offers virtual or taped classes from their home or our aerobics room. These fitness classes are designed to provide safe exercises that can be done without a fitness instructor present.
"Our team members make daily social calls to our members to break up days of solitude with some much-needed socialization. Members are calling members with the same purpose in mind. Both of these interactions are creating new friendships that are helping the Peconic Landing family persevere during this unprecedented time of isolation. On days of sunshine and warmer weather, our members take walks across our vast campus carefully maintaining social distancing. Many have learned how to utilize video calls/conferencing to keep connected to their families and friends in the greater community.
"The physical and emotional health of our members continues to be of the utmost importance. To address both of these needs, our case management team, spearheaded by our medical director Dr. Nathaniel Desire in collaboration with our in-house nurse practitioner, Diane Bianculli, provides support and guidance as necessary. If a member requires an in-person visit, our nurse practitioner dons appropriate PPE and visits with the member in their home.
"In an effort to bring hope and encouragement to the Peconic Landing family, many members of the greater community have offered messages of love and support through our well wishes email address. These messages are shared with our members and our team through our in-house TV channel as well as a separate employee platform. The community has also provided love and support through donations of flowers, meals for our team, and PPE in addition to many other items. We are grateful to the greater community for their on-going love and support.
"We would like to express our most sincere gratitude for the team members who are working day in and day out to provide our members with exceptional service and care. Each day our team members leave the safety of their own homes and their families to come here with smiles on their faces. They are fighting to keep our members safe from COVID-19. They are continuing to ensure everyday life continues at our community as they do their utmost to keep our members safe. We are in awe of their determination, commitment and constantly high spirits as they care for their Peconic Landing family. Together, let’s thank our heroes.
Robert J. Syron
President & CEO"