JAA grapples with COVID-19 outbreak
COVID-19Positive cases at Charles Morris and Weinberg Terrace

JAA grapples with COVID-19 outbreak

Seven residents of JAA facilities who tested positive for the coronavirus have died. Several additional JAA residents and employees have tested positive as well.

JAA employee gets screened for COVID-19 symptoms. Photo provided by the JAA.
JAA employee gets screened for COVID-19 symptoms. Photo provided by the JAA.

Note: This story, originally published on July 30, was updated on July 31 and again on Aug. 4.

After months of avoiding a critical outbreak of COVID-19 in its facilities, the Jewish Association on Aging is now facing its “most significant outbreak of the virus to date,” according to a statement released by the organization on July 31.

As of Aug. 4, six residents of the Charles Morris Nursing & Rehabilitation Center who tested positive for COVID-19 have died, as has one resident of Weinberg Terrace, a personal care community. Seven additional residents of Charles Morris – isolated in one unit – and three additional residents of Weinberg Terrace also have tested positive for COVID-19. Residents of the two impacted communities are being asked to quarantine in their rooms or apartments.

Employees at the two facilities also have been affected by the recent surge of the coronavirus in Allegheny County, with a total of nine staff members from Charles Morris and Weinberg Terrace testing positive as of July 30. So far, seven of those employees have recovered.

“We are devastated by the tragic loss of these individuals who were an important part of our JAA family and we extend our deepest sympathies to their families,” said JAA’s president and CEO Deborah Winn-Horvitz in a prepared statement.

Until recently, the JAA had not been hit by COVID-19 as hard as many other senior living facilities in the area. In April, one staff member at Charles Morris tested positive for the coronavirus. No other cases among either residents or staff were reported by the JAA until July 20, when it announced that two residents at Weinberg Terrace had tested positive and were receiving treatment at an outside facility.

From the outset, “JAA has been diligently following the guidelines issued by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD), along with guidance from Charles Morris medical directors and representatives from the Regional Response Health Collaborative (RRHC),” according to Winn-Horvitz. “The RRHC, developed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, includes representatives from UPMC, Allegheny Health Network, the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, and the Western Pennsylvania Healthcare Association. JAA has instituted and maintained rigorous mitigation and testing protocols. According to the ACHD, the number of long-term care facilities with positive COVID-19 cases has increased nearly 80 percent within the past month.”

JAA staffer Roberto Scuilli takes self test on JAA’s campus (Photo provided by JAA)

“Increases in cases through our region have been strong and, despite months where we had no cases, the surge has now caught up with us at JAA,” said its board chair, Andrew Stewart in a prepared statement. “I speak for the entire board when I say I am amazed by the conviction and dedication of our leadership and staff at JAA as they have fought this virus since its inception. Across our JAA family, the losses this disease has delivered to our community have been heartbreaking. I am so proud of how Debbie and her entire team continue to do everything possible to fight COVID-19.”

As of Aug. 4, 82 nursing homes and personal care facilities in Allegheny County had reported cases of COVID-19, with 908 residents and 281 employees testing positive for the virus, according to the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

The JAA serves about 400 residents in its facilities and has about 500 staff members. An additional 520 community members receive its services.

Since July 31, the JAA has retested all residents and staff at its facilities for the third time in three weeks. As of Aug. 4, there were no new cases in any of the facilities. Ongoing routine testing will continue, according to Winn-Horvitz.

The JAA has increased the level of personal protective equipment and is providing ready access to that equipment to all staff, according to Winn-Horvitz. Other safety precautions include: the continued deployment of air purification, with HEPA filters being changed “more often for added protection throughout the buildings”; temperature and symptom checks of each resident occurring every four hours; and continuing staff screening. The JAA also has “increased the frequency of cleaning with EPA-approved disinfectant in the common areas of the resident floors and rooms along with other high-touch areas.”

Additional pay is in effect for staff working on the impacted units and caring for those who are COVID-19 positive.

“As Pittsburgh experiences a surge in cases, we continue to take every precaution to protect the health of our residents and staff during these challenging times,” said Winn-Horvitz. “From the outset, JAA has diligently adhered to national, state, and local guidelines and has instituted and maintained rigorous mitigation and testing protocols. We work side-by-side with our professional medical directors. Our nurses retested all residents and staff in Charles Morris, AHAVA, Weinberg Terrace, and Weinberg Village, the third test in three weeks, with ongoing routine testing set to continue.

“This powerful virus is having a devastating and challenging impact on people worldwide, and now, it has hit home for us. More than ever, we cherish our values and remain focused on our mission. Together, we will be strong and work together against this common enemy, COVID-19,” she added.

No JAA spokespeople were available to the Chronicle for phone interviews. PJC

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at ttabachnick@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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