Mary Lavery (Photo credit: David Benthal)
When the coronavirus pandemic hit the East End with sudden devastation, local health workers stepped up to keep us safe. In this series a week before the Thanksgiving season, we are proud to recognize their work and show them our gratitude..
Marie Lavery | Director of Nursing Services, Peconic Landing
Mary Lavery grew up in Rocky Point, where helping her grandmother care for her grandfather as a teenager sparked an interest in nursing home work. Almost three years ago, she joined Peconic Landing, a retirement community in Greenport with over 400 residents living in both independent residences and assisted living facilities. In March, Suffolk County’s first COVID patient took a taxi to hospital; the driver also worked part-time in the dietetic department of Peconic Landing. Experts suspect that this one-time exposure triggered a cluster of deadly infections in the community.
“Around December, we started hearing about the outbreak overseas. Greg Garrett, our administrator, and I started ordering stuff very early on, which was great because we were ready when it hit us, and pretty hard. It was one patient after another, after another, every day. We would isolate them and use all PPE to take care of them and do whatever we could.
At the very beginning, staff members would go to a local restaurant with their badges on and often people would back down. And it was very hard for them. They were amazing, the loyalty to the members and their love for them that they wanted so much for them to do well and recover.
Some of my staff are 18, 19 years old. They worked in duplicate for six straight weeks. Staff were getting sick. And some were afraid. How do you tell someone to come to work when they have young children or elderly grandparents with whom they live? They were really good together and for each other. And we saved a lot of people.
Families said: “I haven’t held my mother since March. And I know. I have a mother who is 82 and I know it has been tough for everyone. We couldn’t have the dining room which is very important for members for socializing. We couldn’t have group recreational activities and even simple things like a haircut or a manicure. We have a married couple for 65 years. He lives independently and used to come to the health center every day to sit with his wife and every night to have dinner with her. And now it’s just FaceTime. It is heartbreaking. We try to maintain any kind of normalcy that we can, even just sitting down with someone one-on-one to have a conversation about the song on the stereo or their family.
A lot of nursing homes didn’t report as well or as quickly as we did. And I think the community now recognizes how we did it, and that we changed things as quickly as we did. I think not hiding things probably helped us with the equipment and testing as well. The night nurse sent me a photo at midnight one night, saying “Fear not, Homeland Security was here!” It was she who posed in front of an entire room filled with dresses and gloves.
I would listen to the radio when I got home from work and people would say, “Something good came out of it. I cleaned my closet and repainted my room. And I’m like, I haven’t had a day off for 40 days. But people who enter health care do so for a reason. This is what we are trained for, although you hope it will never happen. You just have to get up every day and say, “OK, I’m going home. “”