WAYNE, NJ – In a show of support and to help boost the spirits of both residents and staff, The Passaic County Sheriff’s Department along with several units from local Police, Fire and EMS departments came to the Preakness Healthcare Center in a long parade of cruisers, fire trucks and ambulances with lights flashing and sirens blaring.

Staff members came out into the sunshine, under a blue sky and greeted the procession of first responders with beaming smiles, waving hands and shouts of cheer. Residents of the healthcare facility were at the windows, greeting the parade with their own smiles.

The Preakness Healthcare facility has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. According to an April 15 letter written by Executive Director Lucinda Corrado and posted to the Passaic County website, thirty residents have tested positive for the virus and sadly, ten residents have died. The letter went on to say that thirty-one staff members have also tested positive for the disease.

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“Our staff have continued to care for our residents despite the challenges and constraints,” wrote Corrado in the letter. “Many staff members have children and, after tirelessly working, must go home to help their children with schoolwork. Many also care for their parents at home after work.”

The letter continued: “This morning I saw the headline in a newspaper: ‘Nursing homes: The Unseen Nightmare’. What a horrendous portrayal of the committed and dedicated staff who work in nursing homes, and most especially, at Preakness. To our staff who may have read this article, please do not allow these types of portrayals to destroy your commitment. Remain, ‘Preakness Strong.’”

Passaic County Freeholder Director, Sandi Lazzara was at the rally along with Freeholder John Bartlett.

Lazzara was asked why an event like this was so important. “So many of our healthcare facilities are being maligned because of the COVID virus,” she said. “What people don’t understand is that everybody who works here puts in hours and hours of time to take care of other people’s loved ones. They are so dedicated, and they work so hard and I think they need to know that we appreciate them, and this is one way for us to do that.”

“There are not enough ways to say Thank you,” added Bartlett. “Everyone in healthcare are putting themselves at risk during this crisis. That’s part of why we are recognizing these people as heroes right now.  The nature of their job increases the likelihood of exposure to a virus that could kill them and their families. In spite of that, these people come to work every day and take care of people who can’t take care of themselves. That is the ultimate example of courage.”

Passaic County Sheriff Richard Berdnik organized the event. “When Freeholder Director Lazzara asked me to put this together, I understood the importance,” he said. “The good people at Preakness are working under very difficult circumstances and the residents are naturally concerned. If there was any way for us to help lift up their spirits and boost their morale, we were ready to do it.” 

With a few phone calls, Berdnik had several local first-responder squads ready to pitch in. Over forty units from the Sheriff’s Department, the Wayne Police Department, Wayne Fire Department, the Paterson Fire Department, the Totowa PD and Prospect Park PD could be seen in the procession.  

Jack McNiff, the Wayne Chief of Police was happy to oblige. “It is imperative that we salute the amazing doctors, nurses, and aids who are putting themselves in harm's way to care for our most vulnerable residents. They are the unsung heroes of this pandemic, and we are here to support and thank them."

The parade lasted about fifteen minutes, with all the units rolling in from the Passaic County Police Academy located down the street from Preakness.  They drove slowly down the front driveway, sirens loud, lights flashing, and windows down, so the officers, firefighters and EMTs could wave back to the staff and residents.  They weaved slowly through the parking lot before driving back out the way they came in. Lining the driveway were staff members, cheering, and recording the event on their mobile phones.

After the last car was gone and the sirens slowly drew away, conversations outside were bright and energetic; evidence that the parade did indeed lift spirits.

Executive Director Corrado was one of the last to head back in. She was touched by the event and grateful to all involved. “This parade will help our residents feel less isolated,” she said. “They have been in their room for weeks and have not had visitors since March 8, so this goes a long way in showing them that they matter, and they are not forgotten.”

Standing next to Corrado was the Director of Volunteers and Community Outreach, Suzanne McEvoy. “It’s been a little difficult for our residents without having visits, especially last week during the holidays. But we did what we could to make it special.”  She described the over 300 dyed Easter eggs that the dietary staff made for the residents and the Easter candy, as well as special meals for Passover. 

The staff at Preakness has needed to get creative to help keep morale up for the residents. “We’ve played corridor Bingo, pastoral care is available on our closed-circuit TV for everyone, and the snack cart is always making rounds,” said Corrado. “We are doing Facetime and Webex visits, so the residents get to see their loved ones and communicate with them.”

McEvoy jumped in: “Our residents have many family members that want to talk to them, so it’s great to have that video connection, so they can see their loved ones.”

“Fear is only normal, given the situation,” McEvoy added. “We all rely on our family and loved ones to get us through difficult situations,” she said. “Not being able to have that physical contact or look forward to a visit from those we love makes it difficult.  But the one good thing about Preakness is that we really are a family here. They see us on a daily basis, and we really hope that we can provide them with that peace of mind and comfort to get them through this.”

The residents at the Preakness Healthcare facility in Wayne have not been forgotten by Passaic County. This was proven today.