MONTCLAIR, NJ — After nine people died at one Montclair long-term care facility, many in the Montclair community have stepped up to display acts of kindness to the healthcare workers at the facility.

The month of March was a particularly difficult one for the staff and residents of the long-term care facility, Family of Caring, located on North Mountain Avenue. 

After hearing of the passing of nine people in the same facility, Pastor Campbell Singleton of the Union Baptist Church of Montclair, his family and church leaders, pitched together to deliver food and gifts to the staff. 

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On Thursday morning, they arrived at Family of Caring bearing gifts. Armed with catered food, small gift bags and prayers as a token of gratitude, Pastor Singleton rang the front doorbell.

The facility saw an uptick of deaths of residents of the facility after a visitor possibly passed on the virus to their spouse during a March 7 visit. After overhearing the visitor coughing, the staff of Family of Caring facility, asked the visitor to leave. Unfortunately, it was too late. Now, more than a half-dozen people from the facility are dead. At last count, there were nine, including the facility administrator.

In an earlier interview, a facility spokesperson stated that they believe that the resident had been infected after the visitor brought the virus into the facility that day.

One by one, nearly 10 days later, residents of the long-term care facility had become hospitalized for symptoms of COVID-19 and because of the existence of pre-existing conditions, some have succumbed to their injuries.

After hearing the news, Singleton and his congregation raised money to provide meals for the healthcare workers and other essential employees. He and his family decided to personally hand-deliver the gift basket and food to the facility. They were joined by one of the church leaders.

"We just wanted to do something to let them know they are not forgotten," said Singleton.

Peter Frawley, a Marketing and External Case Manager at the facility, answered the door. Singleton then informed Frawley that he had called ahead and was dropping of the food that he promised. He then asked if he could pray for Frawley and the facility.

On the front porch of the facility, the other church leader joined Singleton and his family as they prayed for healing and strength.

The first reported positive case of COVID-19 at Family of Caring, came on March 13. An 82-year-old patient at the Family of Caring facility was taken to Hackensack Meridian Health Mountainside hospital with symptoms and succumbed five days later.

Following the resident's positive reading, the nursing home then received test kits from a private lab to swab any residents showing symptoms. News came back that the visitor from the March 7 incident had also tested positive for COVID-19, according to the facility’s spokesperson Jonathon Mechaly. 

Family of Care then released a statement on March 17 to inform the public that it was following all requirements on screening and safety due to COVID-19.

Following the incident, restrictions were put in place barring visitors.

When another death occurred on March 19, neither Montclair officials nor Family Caring would comment if the death was COVID-19 related. However, it was later revealed that it was.

As additional deaths were announced, Family of Caring staff became less communicative with the public about deaths associated with the facility. By then, family members of residents at the facility began to speak out after losing loved ones.

One shocking death on March 19, was the facility's administrator, who had tested positive for the coronavirus. John Cofrancesco, 52, was the administrator at the long-term care facility. He had worked in elder care for more than 21 years and at Family of Caring for the past two.

After his passing, staff expressed that many in the Montclair community began to step in to show acts of kindness to the healthcare workers of the facility.

With health care workers across the nation being celebrated each day with grand gestures of clap outs for shift changes and offers of food around the clock, there are often an element of healthcare workers forgotten in facilities where people are most vulnerable to COVID-19 complications. The elder care facilities are often overlooked, but the deaths pushed them into the spotlight.

"When I called and asked what they wanted or needed, the person on the other end asked for soul food," Campbell said. "We had the food catered for them and wanted to express our gratitude to show them that we care."

Workers at the facility have expressed that people have delivered pizza and other meals to them, as well.

Since the news of the outbreak broke, many in the community had also been committing other randoms acts of kindness to those in the facility. In mid March, after the passing of the facility administrator, workers arrived the next morning, to find signs on their lawn saying, "We Care", "Montclair Cares." 

During an April 7 press conference, state Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli, said, “Our long-term care facilities continue to be severely impacted; 188 of our long-term facilities in the state have at least one COVID-19 case.”

As of Saturday, April 18, the Montclair Township Health Department reports that the confirmed number of COVID-19 cases in Montclair increased from Friday's count of 290 to 300; the number of individuals who did not survive the illness remains at 32. 

At last count, there were nine in total, it is no longer being reported to the public how many of the 32 Montclair deaths are affiliated with Family of Caring facility and requests for comment have gone unanswered since March 19.

The family of residents at the facility informed us that her mom had been admitted to the hospital and passed away prior to the COVID-19 results coming back positive a week later.

According to other families affected, most of the other residents and staff were all swabbed on March 18. 

On March 18, Alix Handy expressed frustration online saying, "Family of Caring Nursing Home in Montclair has an outbreak. I was read a statement by them today..." 

She conginued, "Another resident was transferred to the hospital and tested positive there. My mother is in her 80s and has a lot of health issues. She is currently on oxygen but her health is rapidly declining. They swabbed many of the residents today including my mother."

She later updated her social media post to inform people that her mother had passed away. Nearly a week later, Handy revealed that her mom tested positive for the coronavirus.

"I know a lot of you saw the post about my mother passing away at Family of Caring on Wednesday. I just got the results this morning that she tested positive for Covid 19."

"This does not come as a surprise. Bear in mind that she was swabbed on Wednesday [March 18], and it took until today to get her results back. The backlog of tests means the numbers are so much higher than what is being reported," said Handy in a March 24 post.

As of April 18, New Jersey continues to have the second highest number of cases in the nation, with 81,420 confirmed COVID-19 cases statewide and 4,070 deaths, according to the New Jersey Department of Health. According to the April 18 release, there are 7,718 residents reported hospitalized; 2,024 individuals listed in critical or intensive care; 1,641 ventilators were in use; and 814 residents discharged.

Other acts of kindness from other community groups this week have included food donations to Toni's Kitchen, meals from the Montclair Drifters to HMH Mountainside Medical Center employees and Del Monico's in Cedar Grove delivered meals to the Montclair Ambulance Squad, the Little Falls Police Department, and Atlantic Ambulance (which is currently servicing Cedar Grove residents, among others). This week, Del Monico's in Cedar Grove has also shared plans to utilize a sizable donation from Insight Global, a corporation that works for Meridian Health, in order to donate more than 200 meals to Morristown Medical Center, Hackensack Meridian Health - Mountainside Medical Center and Saint Barnabas Hospital. 

Singleton expressed that Union Baptist members have plans to provide meals to other healthcare workers in the community. 

On the lawn of the facility, there is a help wanted sign. Anyone interested in applying, please call 973-783-9400.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Formerly known as Van Dyk Health Care, Family of Caring purchased this nursing home in October of 2018.  Van Dyk Health Care has no affiliation to Family of Caring.