Distraught, determined Little Sisters of the Poor cope with coronavirus

IMAGE: CNS photo/Don Blake, The Dialog

By Joseph P. Owens

WILMINGTON, Del. (CNS) — 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, Delaware, run by the Little Sisters of the Poor had the most difficult time the day before when a longtime resident died after testing positive for the coronavirus. The 86-year-old man with Philadelphia roots was a popular resident who delighted many over the years by dancing a version of the “Mummers Strut” — a Philadelphia New Year’s Day parade tradition.

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

The Department of Health and Social Services late in the evening of March 26 announced 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. The man who died 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, which 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,” Dr. Kara Odom Walker, a practicing family physician, who is secretary of the Department of Health and Social Services Secretary, 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,” she said. “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.”

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.

A March 22 article in The Dialog, Wilmington’s diocesan newspaper, Mother Margaret had outlined steps the home was taking to ensure residents’ health.

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

“Some that have it (the virus), 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, nonprofit continuing care retirement community with about 40 residents.

The man who died had originally moved 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 and the sisters are now asking for volunteers or donations.

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Owens is editor of The Dialog, newspaper of the Diocese of Wilmington.


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