By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
A decade ago, Kent Turner was working in the kitchen at Oneonta’s B-Side Ballroom, the popular nightspot, when he noticed a vivacious woman and her girlfriends were becoming regulars.
“We starting talking,” said Kent, and one thing led to another. “She had a heart of gold.”
Kent and Jackie fell in love.
Soon, the couple was attending Oneonta’s Community Gospel Church. For seven happy years, “she was really helpful in turning my life around,” he said.
But it wasn’t to continue.
Jackie was stricken with premature dementia in her late 50s, and she was admitted to Cooperstown Center’s Serenity Place, where her loving companion visited her regularly – until he couldn’t.
In February 2020, as COVID-19 loomed, state regulations forced Cooperstown Center to close its doors to visitors. For 13 months, not just Jackie and Kent, but the Center’s more than 150 residents were cut off from their families.
“When we had to close those doors,” said Lacey Rinker, director of nursing, “it breaks your heart.”
All staff was tested twice a week – tests were administered for free, but if anybody tested positive for COVID – a resident or employee – Center had to close to the public for 14 days.
Except for one week in December, “we never met the guidelines to fully open,” said Rinker. “It seemed we always got a new positive, every other week.”
Cooperstown Center has capacity for 176 residents; currently, there are 156. Despite the positive tests, the pandemic was largely kept at bay. Only two residents died of COVID; a third who died of other causes but was found to have been infected.
Through the summer and over the winter, Center did what it could to keep residents in touch with their families, said Steve Woodbeck, director of activities.
Staff experimented with Skype, Google Duo and other virtual programs. Families talked with loved ones through windows. The space between the double doors into the front lobby was heated, and family members would file in there to say hi.
“It was like Fort Knox,” said Rinker.
“We spent a year seeing her through the window,” said Cathy Weir, who the other day was visiting her mom, Elinore Sorbera, former head nurse at the county’s former Meadows Nursing Home, who now resides in Serenity Place, the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Unit
“It was hard,” said Cathy the other day as she trimmed her mom’s pageboy haircut. “The worst part: You couldn’t hug.”
Then, as quickly as it began, it ended, as infection rates declined statewide.
Vaccine supplies allowed 80.7 percent of residents to be inoculated (8.3 percent with the one-shot Johnson & Johnson). Another round of vaccinations was planned Wednesday, April 14.
“When we opened the door and let the families back in, it was special,” said Rinker. “There were tears of joy. You can’t put it into words.”
Best of all, she continued, “if you are fully vaccinated, you can have full-contact hugging.”
Down the hall from Mrs. Sorbera’s, Kent was holding Jackie’s hand and stroking her arm. He lamented missing her 60th birthday in February 2020 and 61st in February 2021.
But that was then; this is now.
“She’s just a dear woman,” he said.