HILLSBOROUGH, NJ — Long-term care facilities and nursing homes were among the hardest hit during the coronavirus pandemic suffering the losses of many senior lives. Now Foothill Acres Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Hillsborough is sharing some insight into what it has been like battling the virus from inside.

“As an industry, this has been a really, really tough past couple of months to get through,” said Regional Marketing Director for Foothill Acres Cris A. Brown.

Since the pandemic began in March, Foothill Acres at 39 E Mountain Rd., has had a total of 84 residents and 20 staff members who have tested positive for the coronavirus. There have also been 37 deaths of residents due to the virus, according to the New Jersey Department of Health as of Monday.

The virus hit the facility hard and fast in the beginning and Brown said they did everything they could given the high-demand and shortage of supplies.

“One thing is we now test every resident and staff weekly. It was not available in the beginning because there were barely enough swabs to test those who were symptomatic. We would’ve loved to test every patient and staff member,” said Foothill Acres Administrator Pinny Goldblatt. “Moving forward we hope to never face this again. But we are much better prepared.”

Foothill Acres is now well-stocked with PPE (personal protective equipment) and test kits and has implemented a new facility layout with dedicated isolation wings.

However, just looking at the numbers of cases and deaths doesn’t bring to light the entire story of what went on behind the scenes.

“Just saying the numbers you lose any sort of context,” Brown said. “I think sometimes just talking numbers can lose the emotional connection of what it really means. One death is too many.”

Brown pointed to the staff who served as frontline heroes by risking their own health day in and day out to help residents.

“When you talk about firemen running into a fire, that is our staff. We saw them here every single day. They would put on PPE and go into resident’s rooms and units taking their own lives into their hands and committed to helping with no hesitation,” Brown said.

With no visitors allowed the staff held more than 1,400 FaceTime and Skype calls to connect residents with families.

Brown said the hardest part was the loss of in-person contact with residents and their loved ones. She noted that the staff and residents are like a family as many have been calling the facility their home for years.

“Something we do here very well in a more normal situation, with any life loss, is we take a lot of time with families. We feel like they can reminisce with us and talk about their loved ones with us. A lot of family members get very close with the staff here,” Brown said.

Unfortunately due to the virus, the in-person grieving process was lost. To help offer some sort of comfort Foothill Acres began creating memory bears for loved ones of residents who have died.

They take an article of clothing from the resident or any important items such as a name tag or jewelry or blanket and it is sewn into a bear. The bear is then hand-delivered to the families by a staff member who cared for the resident. A dozen bears have been delivered so far in the past 3 months.

In the fall if restrictions ease, Foothill Acres plans to host a memorial service in their garden for loved ones to provide more closure.

Moving forward the facility has begun offering outdoor visiting. Families register online and can come once a week for 15 to 20 minutes. More than 200 outdoor visits have already been accommodated.

The outdoor visiting program is temporarily on pause as an employee tested positive for the coronavirus last week and is quarantining at home for the 14 day period. Previous to the employee, the facility had been coronavirus free for about 6 weeks.

For more information on Foothill Acres visit foothillacres.com or call 908-369-8711.

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This article originally appeared on the Hillsborough Patch