Staff lined up for morning roll call and sang songs of encouragement to tackle the day ahead. Picture: Supplied.
Staff lined up for morning roll call and sang songs of encouragement to tackle the day ahead. Picture: Supplied.

Durban retirement village imposes level 5 lockdown for over 160 days

By Nathan Craig Time of article published Sep 6, 2020

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DURBAN - The rest of the country has eased into lower lockdown levels but a Durban retirement village continued with a self-imposed lockdown level 5 for over 160 days.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit local shores, Garden Grove retirement centre shut its doors indefinitely, a week before President Cyril Ramaphosa’s March 26 lockdown announcement.

The centre’s manager, Terry Sterling, said management and staff became premature residents of the retirement village as they lived in vacant rooms that otherwise would be advertised for purchase.

This was to prevent employees movement in and out of the facility and possibly bringing the virus into Garden Grove and thereby endangering the lives of their elderly residents.

Sunday marks 163 days for the 59 staff members and 134 residents living together.

Sterling said both he and his team were exhausted but doing their best with their “new normal”.

“We became one big family. Everybody cares for each other. I think all our staff are amazing people, who have incredible attitudes and love for their jobs. I'm so humbled they trusted and accepted my vision that a total lockdown was the safest way to protect our residents, and even though feet and backs are sore, and they miss their families, you will battle to find grumpy staff,” he said.

But the facility's doors are expected to reopen in mid-September.

“We are hoping that provincial infection rates will have dropped and it will be safe to end our lockdown.”

Resident Eddie Ritchie, who recently turned 90-years-old, said while he disliked losing his freedom to explore the city, he believed Sterling made the right call.

“I was born in 1930 so I have seen many things from the invention of television, a man was put on the moon and I grew up during a World War, but never have I seen something this devastating. This pandemic has brought countries to a standstill and I have never had my freedom taken away.”

Miranda Davies’s mother, 75-year-old Ingrid Montgomery, became a resident on the eve of Ramaphosa’s lockdown announcement.

“My mother had breast cancer and on March 26 was discharged from Entabeni Hospital after having a mastectomy. She had bought a suite at Garden Grove but never had the chance to move in but she was allowed to convalesce in their clinic,” she said.

Davies lives abroad in Surrey in the UK and said she had to put her faith in absolute strangers to nurse and care for her mother.

“Thankfully, she is now cancer-free and after months, she has recovered. All I wanted to do was fly down and be with her but that was not and still is not a reality.

"Erika Rivalland, Garden Grove's sales lady, packed up mom’s home and delivered everything to the centre, it was disinfected and her suite was set up. Mom lived in the clinic the whole time, and on the day when she was done at the clinic, the staff surprised her and took her to her suite where her paintings were hanged and clothes were packed. They made it home,” said Davies.

Thembi Mbili, Garden Grove’s nursing manager, said it had been challenging but they were up to the task.

“We are not scared. I feel blessed to have our team and as healthcare workers, we are committed to keeping residents safe. What started with 21 days became over 150 days, but it has been necessary. We all know that we are safe, from residents to the staff. We have people living with co-morbidities and we could not take chances,” she said.

Mbili said even though she missed her two sons, who currently lived with her sister, the right call was made.

There have been no confirmed Covid-19 cases at Garden Grove.

Professor Salim Abdool Karim, chair of the country’s Covid-19 Ministerial Advisory Committee said the correct decision was made, and one that ensured lives were saved.

“The elderly are hit hard by this virus. When an old age home resident contracts the virus it can spread like wildfire, this is what happened in Sweden and Belgium and led to their high death toll. Or look at the St Augustine’s outbreak and what happened at Bill Buchanan.”


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