TOMS RIVER – Jean Powell has a lot to celebrate.
Not only did she turn 91 on April 26, but she also beat COVID-19.
“I could have just cried when I saw her on her birthday,” said Kim Wedemeyer, Powell’s daughter. “She showed me her card and was just so happy. She said it was the best birthday of her whole life.”
Like a lot of birthday parties lately, loved ones had to send their wishes from afar. In this case, the family was outside her window at Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Toms River. Powell waved to her family as her care team showered her with cards and gifts.
The next day, she went home to her assisted living facility.
Her daughter recalled the fear she had as her mother had got sick.
“She was sent to the hospital, and they told me she had pneumonia, and they were testing for COVID-19,” Wedemeyer said. “It was terrifying because I couldn’t be there, and she has dementia. I’m her familiar face. I can talk her down.”
She spent weeks in a hospital fighting the virus. After being released, she was not strong enough to return home. That’s why she spent her time recuperating at Encompass Health. They now have a COVID unit specifically to treat patients like her who need more rehabilitation before they go home. Powell spent 10 days there before going home.
“One of my nursing assistants described these patients as being like little kittens; they’re so weak they can’t even hold the phone to talk to their families,” said Coleen Rossi, the chief nursing officer at Encompass Health Toms River. “They’ve been in the hospital a long time. In addition to therapy, we’re doing a lot of those little things. Their hair might be matted or they might not have had a real shower. A lot is that personal touch.”
Although the patients in the COVID unit are recovering, Rossi said it is safer to assume they are all still positive. Therefore, the unit is separated from other patients and staff. Visitors are not allowed.
This, naturally, is difficult for families.
“Her case manager called me that first day and said if you ever need anything call me,” Wedemeyer said. “I never had to call her. She would call me. And I know the nursing staff is under horrendous pressure, but if mom ever needed anything, they were there. One of them called me so we could Facetime. I didn’t ask her to do that; It was wonderful. They really put my heart at ease and were like an extension of my family.”
Rossi said the entire staff at the hospital, and particularly the COVID unit, is working hard to comfort patients when their loved ones cannot.
“I have an aunt in a nursing home who tested positive for COVID-19, so I get it,” she said. “We’re trying to do for these patients what their families can’t. It’s really touched and overwhelmed me, some of these things the staff has done.”