Peconic Landing, an upscale retirement community and continuing care facility in Greenport, has suffered a sixth death linked to the coronavirus, with infections there likely traced back to Suffolk County’s first confirmed carrier.
Following the latest death, that of an 89-year-old man Tuesday, Peconic Landing Chief Executive Officer Bob Syron provided an outline of how he believes the virus was introduced and led to six deaths over the past week.
Syron said in an interview that a chain of infections is believed to have begun with the earliest known carrier in the county, who tested positive for the virus on March 8. Greenport Harbor Brewery confirmed that case was an employee.
The unidentified brewery worker traveled to Southampton Hospital by a hired car driven by a woman who worked part-time in Peconic Landing’s dietary department.
When the brewery worker’s illness was confirmed as coronavirus, the Suffolk County Department of Health launched a “contact investigation” in search of people who may have been exposed, Commissioner Dr. Gregson H. Pigott said in an interview on Wednesday.
That search led to the Peconic Landing dietary worker, who is believed to have been infected on the ride to the hospital.
Peconic Landing preemptively sent home, with pay, 12 workers who had been in contact with the worker. Six of those would later test positive for COVID-19.
“Once they found out, they did everything they should have,” Pigott said.
Greg Garrett, chief operating officer of Peconic Landing, said they don’t believe the part-time employee was the only exposure. They later received a call from someone who had visited the nursing facility for several days from California, who also informed them that he had tested positive and visited for several days.
“A lot of people are carriers who had no idea they were sick,” he said. “We don’t want to try to blame an individual. But that is the point: This was here before anyone knew it.”
The most recent fatality was an 89-year-old man who had tested positive for the virus Sunday. He died Tuesday evening at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.
The man, who was not identified, had no pre-existing health conditions, the statement said.
Peconic Landing had previously seen the deaths of three women, ages 96, 97 and 89, and two men, ages 88 and 96. Those were reported to have had pre-existing health conditions.
Lisa Newcomb, executive director of Empire State Association of Assisted Living, called the situation at Peconic Landing “any care provider's nightmare. When you have this highly contagious disease, you take care of very frail and elderly people, they’re most susceptible.”
She said she wasn’t aware of any clusters of cases as large at any assisted living facility in the state while also saying, “That doesn’t mean it’s not out there.”
Southold Supervisor Scott Russell praised Peconic Landing’s handling of the outbreak.
“When it was first revealed, (Peconic Landing CEO) Bob Syron did an excellent job locking down the facility as quickly as he could,” Russell said. “As bleak as it might seem, it could have been so much worse.”
Peconic Landing residents and their family members said life has been restricted and touched by an undercurrent of worry.
Caryn Sheckler said her father, Robert Greenberger, was among the six dead.
He was an 88-year-old resident of the section called Harbor North for Assisted Living, and had prior conditions, including heart disease and Lou Gehrig's disease. He was diagnosed Sunday and died Monday in the hospital, she said.
Sheckler, 58, of Ithaca, said she had no complaints about the care he received at Peconic Landing, nor the way the facility has handled the crisis.
"He was an old man and he wasn't in good shape," she said.
She said she regretted, however, that family members were not allowed to be by his side when he passed, due to restrictions on the hospital's visitation policy.
"Nobody got to be with him as he was dying, not even his wife," she said. Also, the hospital phone by his bed didn't work, she said.
The night before her father died, Sheckler said several family members and friends held a kind of virtual toast to the man they described as having a great sense of humor. They each took pictures of themselves raising a glass and texted it to the others.
She said her father's body will be cremated and that there were no plans for a funeral, considering the requirements of social distancing.
Legis. Steve Rhoads (R-Bellmore) said that his grandmother Dorothy Rhoads was among those who died of coronavirus at Peconic Landing.
Dorothy Rhoads, 97, died March 19 at the facility. She was a resident of The Shores for Skilled Nursing, he said. She had started feeling bad on Monday.
He said his grandmother had been there since 2002, starting out in independent living and moving in 2018 into nursing care. She was generally healthy but had underlying health issues, which the family asked to remain private.
Rhoads said his grandmother loved the place.
As of noon Tuesday, Peconic Landing said 13 residents had tested positive for COVID-19. Seven cases were clustered at a skilled nursing facility, five were tied to a memory support unit, and one was located in an independent living section.
"I feel sorry for the ones exposed to it," said Jane Winsch, who is in her early 70s and was reached by telephone. Winsch lives in an independent living cottage. "I feel protected," she said.
She spends her days walking along paths on the property and reading. Staff, wearing masks and gloves, now leave her meals and mail at her door to avoid contact.
The facility has two internal TV stations, one of which offers information on the virus, and another that offers movies and other entertainment, she said.
Winsch, who lived in Orient before she moved to Peconic Landing four years ago, said she saw two women walking together on the grounds holding a six-foot-long rope between them to maintain social distancing.
Another woman's grandchildren held a sign outside her window saying, "Be Strong," Winsch said.
Residents have been helping other residents during the crisis, said Sylvia Ebert, 83, who has been at the facility for 18 months. She's been taking walks down to the gazebo by the nearby beach.
Ebert, who lives in an independent living cottage, said she ran into a woman who had run out of eggs, and she gave her some. Another woman was concerned she couldn't find her thermometer; yet another was concerned because she couldn't read her thermometer, she said.
Whenever anyone dies at the facility, the staff places a white rose in the lobby.
The 144-acre campus is home to more than 400 people and is situated on the Long Island Sound on Long Island’s North Fork. It accommodates people age 62 and older and is designed to help residents age in place. People can move from independent to assisted living and skilled nursing care.
Peconic Landing is home to 187 apartments, 107 cottages, 26 one-bedroom assisted living apartments and facilities for 40 skilled nursing residents.