Doba Gendelman is a resident of the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Life. Her daughter-in-law, Irina Gendelman, fears for Doba and other residents as the facility begins accepting Covid-19 patients. (Photo/Courtesy Irina Gendelman)
Doba Gendelman is a resident of the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Life. Her daughter-in-law, Irina Gendelman, fears for Doba and other residents as the facility begins accepting Covid-19 patients. (Photo/Courtesy Irina Gendelman)

Families of residents, attorney oppose Covid-19 patients at SF Jewish senior home

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A San Francisco-based attorney widely known for her work in patient rights has penned an open letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom, urging him to order California nursing homes, including the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living, to stop accepting Covid-19 patients from hospitals, essentially reversing an order from the state’s public health department.

“I respectfully request that you immediately order existing facilities to refuse admission to any outside patients with the [Covid-19] infection,” wrote Colette Hughes, who also addressed the letter to San Francisco Mayor London Breed, state Sen. Scott Wiener and state Assemblymember David Chiu. “It is too dangerous to do otherwise. When the virus enters nursing homes, it is highly likely to spread and kill residents despite precautions.”

Currently the Campus for Jewish Living is caring for two Covid-19 patients, according to spokesperson Marcus Young, who said the patients are being kept on a separate floor in a three-floor building with a dedicated group of staff members.

Facilities like the SFCJL have been ordered by the California Department of Public Health to accept Covid patients to help prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed in the coming weeks. The patients will be “clinically stable” but still require infectious-disease care and treatment, the order says.

As of April 13, about 20 to 30 residents and staff at SFCJL had been tested for the virus, according to information provided to J. by S.F. Supervisor Ahsha Safai’s office. No positive cases were reported.

In an April 15 statement, the SFCJL said it was prepared to accommodate Covid-19 patients.

“Our focus and priority continue to be the safety of our staff, patients and residents. That has never changed and continues to be our highest priority today.

“To date, we have had no positive cases in either our staff or resident/patient population,” the statement continued, “which we attribute to our proactive measures that we elected to take on early including screening all staff and authorized visitors.”

Alongside the attorney’s concern, several family members of residents at the SFCJL expressed to J. their deep worries about the senior home taking in virus-infected patients.

“My main concern is cross-contamination will result in my mother getting infected,” said Teresa Palmer, a retired nursing-home doctor whose 103-year-old mother, Berenice Palmer, lives at the facility. “She will die, alone and terrified.”

Palmer is so worried about the risk to her mother’s health that she reached out on April 13 to Safai, whose district covers the Excelsior where the SFCJL is located, hoping to get more details about how Covid-19 patients will be handled.

The San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living. (Photo/Courtesy SFCJL)
The San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living. (Photo/Courtesy SFCJL)

Safai responded to Palmer, reassuring her that he had been told by the SFCJL that a dedicated staff is working with Covid-19 patients.

But Palmer doubts that level of isolation is realistic. “I think it will not be possible to stop intermingling,” she said.

The SFCJL reported that each patient it takes in will have been “reviewed and approved” by the San Francisco Department of Public Health prior to discharge from the hospital.

“These patients enter through a separate building entrance, and will remain in isolation in their room during their stay with us while they recover,” Young said.

Other worried family members have emailed the SFCJL, including Lana, a resident’s daughter who requested that only her first name be used. She contacted the senior home’s leadership on Sunday, outlining her concerns and saying she hoped the facility would find a way to change course.

“The problem is that if the infection will start to spread at SFCJL, it will be too late to ‘undo’ the damage,” she wrote. “That is why we ask you to urgently reconsider the SFCJL’s plan.”

Lana said that as of Wednesday, she had not received a response.

“We cannot experiment with elderly people who don’t have any defense,” she told J. “It’s too much risk.”

Irina Gendelman, whose 89-year-old mother-in-law Doba Gendelman lives at the home, described the order as a “very, very bad decision.” Gendelman has not been able to see Doba since early March when the SFCJL closed its doors to visitors.

“We are putting people who are very contagious close to the most vulnerable people in the world,” Irina said.

This week’s statement from the SFCJL said the home understands concerns from family members.

“We want them to know that we have taken those measures recommended by the CDC and our regulatory agencies to help keep their loved ones safe while we all weather this storm,” the statement said.

The letter from attorney Hughes, who is also a former nurse, cited examples of nursing homes that have experienced Covid-19 outbreaks and deaths, including the Gateway Care and Rehabilitation Center in Alameda County, where dozens of patients and staff have been infected and 13 have died.

“I really hope the governor takes another look at this,” Hughes told J. “Family members don’t feel comfortable. And I don’t blame them.”

Gabriel Greschler

Gabriel Greschler was a staff writer at J. from 2019 to 2021.