On the same day that Jewish HomeLife announced a new executive director at Berman Commons, residents and their families were informed that an employee of the assisted living facility had tested positive for COVID-19.
The appointment of Cheryl Chambers as executive director was announced in the morning of April 22. Several hours later, Chambers wrote to residents and their families that on April 21 “an asymptomatic team member on our assisted living floor tested positive” for the coronavirus. Asymptomatic means that the individual showed no symptoms of the virus.
“This individual has been wearing appropriate PPE [personal protective equipment] for the past several weeks, and the last shift worked was April 17th,” Chambers wrote. “We do not believe this team member had any direct exposure to our residents. However, in an abundance of caution, we want to be sure.
“Therefore, today we are testing all residents who had any contact with this team member in the last 14 days, regardless of symptoms. We are also testing any team members who worked directly with this individual over the last 14 days,” she stated.
“When we have the results, we will contact any individual residents and families directly impacted first, then send a communication to all the families. If you do not hear from our clinical team personally, then your loved one has not been impacted.”
Berman Commons has a 32-unit memory care unit and 58 assisted-living apartments, as well as 110 employees.
Thus far, no resident of the assisted living section has tested positive for COVID-19.
On March 26, an employee who worked in the memory care unit on weekends — and had not been in the building the previous 11 days — reported that she had tested positive for COVID-19. At the time, five residents of the memory unit had been tested after developing elevated temperatures, a symptom of COVID-19. Four of those tests came back positive. As of April 17, only one of the four continued to test positive.
On March 28, six employees whose work put them in contact with the memory care unit tested positive. As of April 22, all six were reported to have recovered.
Visitors, including family members, already had been barred from Berman Commons at the time of the March outbreak. In response, communal meals and activities were suspended and residents asked not to leave their apartments. The use of PPE by Berman Commons staff also was increased, as was cleaning throughout the residence.
In her April 22 notice, Chambers wrote, “We are hopeful that our strict infection control protocols, including the frequent cleaning and anti-viral spraying, and our constant and appropriate usage of PPE, will reduce our risk of additional spread.”
On any given day JHL cares for about 400 people in residential facilities located at three sites in the Atlanta area, and about 300 living in private residences. Its clients range in age from 62 to the 100s. The vast majority in the residential facilities are in their 80s and 90s. Jewish HomeLife also employs about 450 people at its facilities.
In announcing Chambers’ appointment, Jeff Gopen, chief operating officer of Jewish HomeLife, wrote to residents and families: “Today I received a resignation letter from Executive Director Rhett Scircle. We appreciate all he did to improve care, services and outcomes since joining the Jewish HomeLife family two years ago.”
A JHL spokeswoman said that Scircle’s resignation was “absolutely not” related to the COVID-19 incidents in March.
Gropen said that Chambers, already JHL’s director of assisted living services for JHL, would become executive director for Berman Commons, as she has been at the Cohen Home, also an assisted living facility.
“Cheryl has been front and center in all Berman Commons operations for the past four months, particularly during our efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in this community. She is well-respected by the team members and residents,” Gropen said.
In March, a letter to residents and families from Gopen and Harley Tabak, JHL’s president and CEO, praised Chambers and nurse practitioner Kara Gold for their efforts to find COVID-19 testing kits at a time when a shortage made the kits an in-demand item throughout the state.