One of the places that is directly on the front lines of the COVID-19 epidemic is Peconic Landing, the lifecare and retirement community in Greenport. On Friday, Bob Syron, the facility’s president and CEO, reported three members of Peconic Landing’s Health Center have died from the virus. All were in their nineties, the age group most vulnerable to COVID-19.
“Once it hit Long Island, we knew it would be here,” Mr. Syron said. “So we prepared well in advance. But we did not expect it would hit us like it did.”
The Times Review Media Group interviewed Mr. Syron and Gregory Garret, Peconic Landing’s chief operating officer. The answers have been edited for space and clarity.
The Suffolk Times: You reported on Friday that three members have died since the pandemic struck. How has this impacted your community at Peconic Landing?
Bob Syron: I announced it to the members on our in-house TV system. It was the worst TV announcement I have made. We were waiting for testing to come back and when it did we went and told everyone. It’s a terrible kick in the stomach. The very first moment there was a case on the property, that night, I went on in-house TV to inform the members. We explained to them what we are doing. Every day since then we have gone on the TV to keep everyone informed. It was one (confirmed), then three, to five — every day something. Announcements run every half-hour on the hour. Every member has the channel in their homes.
ST: In terms of where you are today, how many have been tested?
BS: Twenty-four have been tested. Sixteen are positive, including the three who died. Two are in the hospital. One is in hospice. Others are stable here. In terms of keeping members informed, we also put out memos that we hand deliver and put under their doors, as everyone is sheltering in place. Some do go out and walk, and that’s healthy.
So, 16 tested positive. All members. Employees are separate, and we’ve had six test positive. We have 17 employees on mandatory quarantine, eight more on our own quarantine. Six have been cleared to come back. We are lean in some areas, but backing up with staff from other areas. We are getting it done.
ST: We’ve heard from the governor and the county executive referring to the pandemic as akin to war. Is that how it feels at Peconic Landing?
BS: Oh, yes. This is not a battle that can be won in a short period of time. It is definitely a war. A marathon, not a sprint. We are managing the staff so we don’t burn them out. It won’t be over anytime soon. We have ordered shipments of food for the long haul. The biggest challenges are protective equipment so we can protect ourselves.
ST: Do you have what you need?
BS: We have what we need for the next four days. We are told another shipment is coming. We are working with the hospitals for supplies, with the New York State Department of Health. And now [Suffolk County Executive] Steve Bellone has reached out to see how he can help. I have his cell number. He has us covered. He called today to ask how we are doing, and he complimented us on being very open and transparent.
ST: How are you monitoring your staff as they come and go to work?
Gregory Garret: We received guidance from the state Department of Health. We are following that. We assume everyone has been exposed at some point. We treat people that way. Everyone is given a questionnaire as to their possible exposure. We take their temperatures when they come on and off their shifts. We have been screening people for about two weeks. In this situation, what you see is the good is so many people.
BS: I have employees and members who ask me how I am doing. I tell them we will get through this together.
ST: Where do you see where we are on the graph right now? Are we only at the beginning of this? Still going up?G
GG: I believe we are still on the climb, particularly now with all the testing sites open. I believe we have not reached the peak.
BS: I have been told by officials in different positions who say this will continue to rise.
ST: To get back to testing, who actually is doing it? Can your staff do it?
BS: We wish we could. We would test every person here if we could. For employees, the county will test them. As for members, we call the state health department. They came and did swab tests and the next day they did more. As for our members, no one on the independent side has tested positive yet. But it is a matter of time.