QUEENS, N.Y. - A “Heroes Work Here” sign greets employees entering the Holliswood Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Hollis.
For the past two months they have been the sole face-to-face contact for the center's nearly 300 patients, after the doors were closed to all visitors to prevent the coronavirus from spreading there.
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"I think that it was a shock to all of us that coronavirus kind of sneaked up on us, even though we knew about it. We were preparing, and I know I was educating staff on corona and what was going on. What we were expecting. Within a week, so much changed," said Annmarie Ramos, Director of Nursing at Holliswood Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing.
Ramos said enforcing the protections was a huge challenge initially.
"Notifying family members that they weren’t going to be able to come anymore. They were angry because it just kind of happened. Speaking to the residents and letting them know their loved ones weren’t going to be able to come," Ramos noted.
Still, the virus came calling, killing at least 57 people - a number that Ramos says reflects residents who died in house, as well as in the hospital.
She calls residents extended family and says their deaths have taken a toll on employees.
"I don’t think that people understand that as much and see that concept that when we have a death so many people are affected besides just the family, that experience, this loss," Ramos said.
Ramos says some of the 57 people who died - she did not have an exact number - were COVID-19 patients who had been transferred from hospitals, under a controversial state policy enacted by Governor Andrew Cuomo requiring homes to take them.
However, Ramos was careful not to blame the policy for the virus spreading through the Holliswood Center.
Last week, Cuomo changed the policy. Now hospital patients must test negative for the virus before they can be admitted to a nursing home. In addition, nursing home staff must now be tested for the virus twice a week.
Ramos says as the number of hospitalizations decreases she hopes the focus will shift to nursing homes.
"We just want the same support he gave the hospitals, that worked out really great," Ramos said. We see the numbers are decreasing. Now let’s start sharing that with our nursing home family. Let’s have that same regional approach."
It's an approach she hopes will keep this vulnerable population safe.