COVID-19 just hit a little closer to home for long-term care providers.

The community lost one of its own last week. His name was John Cofrancesco. He was the administrator of Family of Caring in Montclair, NJ. He was 52.

The news has reverberated across the long-term care community. Jonathan Dolan, president and CEO of the Health Care Association of New Jersey, said this loss made him think of other difficult experiences, such as the 2011 tornado in Joplin, MO. Some 14 residents and one nursing home employee died in that disaster. Dolan was the state executive of the Missouri state chapter at the time.

“I immediately thought of that,” he told me. “It was jarring.”

Unfortunately, we are all beginning to adjust to the concept that Cofrancesco’s death may not be the last from this close-knit professional community. As of Monday, 147 nursing homes across 27 states have at least one resident with COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Making the best

Administrators and their staff across the country, as usual, are the unsung heroes in this crisis, doing their best to care for residents and themselves. One example is in Fort Collins, CO. There Fred Pitzel, administrator of Good Samaritan Society ­– Fort Collins Village, is trying to keep the number of cases at his 62-resident facility to zero.

“There are no positive cases, and we intend to keep it that way,” he told me. “That’s our daily issue we’re looking at.”

But with an invisible threat that has robbed residents of social activity ­— no communal dining, no activities — as well as interaction — no beauty shop, no visitors­ — Pitzel and his staff are providing creative ways to keep residents of this faith-based community engaged.

That includes helping residents connect to family via Skype and Zoom, putting inspirational pictures and scripture on computer screens, and fulfilling a wish-list from Amazon of games and other ways to keep residents in the world.  A full-time chaplain also is sending out positive messages to residents and supporting staff.

“We are trying to combat the negative with things that are positive,” he said.

During this period, he and his staff have had to make hard decisions, such as denying a woman the desire to see her husband of 56 years.

“’We are protecting their marriage,’ I told staff,” Pitzl said. “Those are the lives we are impacting by doing what we’re doing.”

Above all, the staff, many of whom have changed their schedules to be available, are trying to keep residents hopeful of the time post-coronavirus. A board with “The Shape of Things to Come” offers a place where residents and staff can offer those things that they most look forward to for the time after the coronavirus. Among them: Going out to eat, planting flowers that will represent a new season, and dining together.

Corona poem

On a lighter side, prior to the communal activities ban, the facility held an open mic event where residents and staff shared poems, literature  and more. Inspired by this event, which was the last group help before the activities ban, Pitzl wrote the following poem:

Corona Corona

Corona, Corona, it’s not a bunch of bologna
I just heard I cannot see my friend from Barcelona

Don’t touch, high five or shake
Every precaution we will take

Our prayers go out to those who have fallen ill
We wish we could give you a special pill

CNN, Fox News and all the rest
Watching too much TV may not be the best

Don’t let fear consume, guide or paralyze you
Choose facts over fear and focus on what is true

We’re not allowed visitors or volunteers
Now is a good time to get to know your peers

Keep your distance, six feet they say
I’m glad this virus is not here to stay

It’s good to get fresh air and get outside
By all means in your room do not hide

Use hand sanitizer and wash your hands
Against this virus we will take our stand

Fear and worry weaken your immunity
Let’s rise in faith and strengthen our community

Many shelves in the grocery store are not very full
And it’s been so very hard to buy a toilet paper roll

Restricting visitors and canceling trips — did we overreact?
We did this to keep you safe, that’s a fact

With this new reality we have to come to terms
In the meantime, let’s spread love, not germs

Let’s agree and pray that this thing will stay away
And then we can tell our family to come and stay

It will be nice when this is over and done
When that happens, let’s have a picnic and enjoy the sun.


Liza Berger is senior editor at McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.