How One Maryland Nursing Home Avoided COVID-19
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
A hopeful story now concerning the pandemic. It's about a nursing home in a hard-hit part of the country, and the majority of its residents are Black. And no one there has gotten the coronavirus. It's the Maryland Baptist Aged Home in Baltimore, and Derrick DeWitt is the director. He's also pastor of the First Mount Calvary Church nearby. And Reverend DeWitt joins us now.
DERRICK DEWITT: Hi. Thank you for having me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sir, deaths in nursing homes account for nearly half of the virus-related deaths in the United States. How did you do this? What measures did you take?
DEWITT: Well, it was a combination of things. The best thing I could say we did was we really believed that the virus was coming. And this is kind of funny, but it's - when I heard President Trump say we only had 15 cases and by the end of the week that it would be zero, I knew that it was time to act.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: When President Trump said that it was going to be zero, you thought, that's not going to happen.
DEWITT: Right. Right.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Trump said that on February 26. Did you encounter backlash from people who thought at that point that you were overreacting?
DEWITT: Yeah. So some people thought that we being a faith-based nursing home - why would we be reacting this way? Why wouldn't we just have faith in God to protect us? And I kind of shared with them, you know, I have faith in God, but I still wear my seatbelt when I get in the car.
DEWITT: So this was kind of that extra measure that we were taking to ensure the safety of our residents.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: One might think you should be head of the CDC.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Maryland Baptist Aged Home is the oldest Black-owned and operated nursing home in the state. About 60% of your residents are Black. What did you think when you started seeing headlines about the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on Black communities?
DEWITT: Well, I can't say that I was surprised to hear that. You know, Hurricane Katrina came to mind, and I remember images of African Americans being on their rooftops, waiting to be picked up from the floodwaters. And I remember a story my grandmother told me about the great flood of Ohio when she lived in Chillicothe, Ohio, and she was on the roof of her house with a baby. And the only reason that they really let her on the boat is because her skin was so light that they mistook her for white.
Those images kind of signaled to me that we're probably going to be on our own, or we're going to be the last ones to get help. And that kind of came true because when they started setting up testing centers, the testing centers were set up in the suburbs. Also, they were drive-through testing centers, which eliminated a lot of people in the inner cities from being able to even be tested.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You heard the president say something and immediately went in the other direction, and that worked out. But do you have any concern about the breakdown in trust that we're seeing right now?
DEWITT: Yeah, I'm very concerned when you look at the political landscape as it is right now and the division that's going on in our country. And what I'm telling my people is to - we're going to have to do what we know is best because there's not going to be any clear, concise guidance that's going to come from our political leadership.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is going to go on for quite some time. How are your residents going to cope? What advice do you have for those who are feeling isolated while they're cut off from the outside world?
DEWITT: Well, we have faith in God, and we know that God is a very present help. And we know that he will not put more on us than we can bear. And if we just continue to have faith and be strong and courageous and patient, we know that this, too, will end, and God will see us through it. So we just have to keep our hopes up, do the best that we can do while staying inside.
And we've learned a lot about ourselves during this pandemic. We learned that we can have fun without going outdoors. We can make the time that we spend together in isolation quality time. And so we encourage them to just keep the faith. And this, too, shall pass.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's the Reverend Derrick DeWitt of the Maryland Baptist Aged Home.
Thank you very much.
DEWITT: Thank you very much. And I appreciate you giving us a chance to tell our story.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.