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Distraught, determined Little Sisters of the Poor deal with coronavirus death, illness at Jeanne Jugan home in Delaware

Mother Margaret Regina at Mass on July 18 celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Arrival of the Little Sisters of the Poor in America. Dialog photo/Don Blake

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Mother Margaret Regina Halloran was doing her best to fight back tears in the early morning of March 27, but she wasn’t really winning the struggle.

The local superior of the Jeanne Jugan Residence in Newark run by the Little Sisters of the Poor had the most difficult time of things the day before when a longtime resident died after testing positive for coronavirus. The 86-year-old man with Philadelphia roots was a popular resident who delighted many over the years by dancing a version the “Mummers Strut” — the joyous New Year’s Day tradition people kick up along Broad Street, one of the city’s main drags.

“It’s been pretty tough,” said Mother Margaret, gearing up for a Friday on four hours sleep.

The Department of Health and Social Services announced late in the evening March 26 the first long-term care facility coronavirus-related death in Delaware and the first outbreak of positive cases in such a facility in the state.

DHSS Division of Public Health responded to the report of the death of the 86-year-old male resident of Jeanne Jugan Residence. He had underlying medical conditions, according to the state and Mother Margaret.

In addition, six residents of the Newark nursing home tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Division of Public Health. DHSS is actively working with the facility to ensure resident and staff safety.

Mother Margaret said the man’s daughter was able to spend 20 minutes with him and his grandchildren got to see him through a window.

“We are deeply saddened to hear of this individual’s death,” DHSS Secretary Dr. Kara Odom Walker, a practicing family physician, said in a statement released by her office. “The population who lives in these facilities are at the greatest risk for COVID-19, based on their age and underlying health conditions. Unfortunately, this death and the confirmed cases at this facility underscore the need for all long-term care facilities in Delaware to follow strict screening protocols for anyone entering their facilities.”

Bishop Malooly and Mother Superior, Mother Margaret Regina, check out the display of locations that the Little Sisters of the Poor serve the community during the 150th Anniversary of the Arrival of the Little Sisters of the Poor in America last July. Dialog photo/Don Blake

After the man’s death, Mother Margaret said state officials spent time with the Little Sisters reviewing best practices and how to protect residents and staff.

In an article on thedialog.org earlier this week, Mother Margaret had outlined measures put in place and precautions taken.

“It just happened so fast,” she said on March 27, adding that many residents at Jeanne Jugan suffer from poor health that can be typical for elderly.

“Some that have it, they’re hanging in there … still strong,” Mother Margaret said. “It’s something nobody realized. People are OK for a couple of days, then they show symptoms again.

“Everybody thought they knew it, but it’s an invisible enemy.”

The death of the resident hit hard in the close-knit, non-profit continuing care retirement community with about 40 residents.

The man who died had originally moved in to the residence more than a dozen years ago with his wife, who preceded him in death several years ago.

“He really loved it here,” Mother Margaret said.

The mother superior said the state has recommended additional staffing. She said those who want to help or donate to the residence can call the main number at 302-368-5886.

On March 13, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a statement outlining aggressive measures for nursing homes nationwide to follow with respect to safety at their facilities:

  • Restricting all visitors, effective immediately, with exceptions for compassionate care, such as end-of-life situations;
  • Restricting all volunteers and nonessential health care personnel and other personnel (i.e. barbers);
  • Cancelling all group activities and communal dining;
  • Implementing active screening of residents and health care personnel for fever and respiratory systems.

In cases of compassionate care, CMS wants visitors equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, and the visits will be limited to a specific room.

On March 16, DHSS issued further restrictive and specific guidance to all facilities serving older adults, including screening protocols for visitors, requirements for disinfecting rooms, and reinforcing resident and staff hygiene.

In a news release, Walker said DHSS’ Division of Health Care Quality (DHCQ) will work closely with long-term care facilities in the state to verify that these strong measures are in place at each facility, and if, not, to assist them in implementing stronger protocols.