Janice Dean: Coronavirus cost my in-laws their lives. Gov. Cuomo, our vulnerable loved ones deserved better

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It hit me when my kids’ school principal called. She had heard the news from another parent that our children had lost both of their grandparents, Mickey and Dee Newman, to the virus.

“How are you all doing? I’m so sorry for your loss….”

As her phone call came in, my husband Sean was at his parent’s apartment picking out a dress to bury his mom in.

JANICE DEAN SLAMS CUOMO NURSING HOME POLICY AFTER LOSING IN-LAWS TO COVID-19: 'NOT JUST NUMBERS ON A CURVE'

He texted Katie, a health care worker who had gotten close to his mom over the last few years.

Katie suggested a flower-patterned dress hanging on the bedroom door. She remembered it being there the last time she was at the house.

Sean found it in the exact place she mentioned.

He FaceTimed his sister Donna to help with the jewelry his mom would wear.

He then looked for some items of his dad’s to be placed in the casket: an old running hat the used to wear and a World Trade Center survival medal that Sean had received after 9/11.  He had given it to his dad and now he placed the pin on the running cap.

Sean then found the paperwork for his dad’s honorable discharge from the Air Force in hopes we could have a USAF honors ceremony for the burial flag at a small funeral in the future.

He found a stack of love letters that his parents wrote to one another over the years.

I’m not sure where my husband found the strength to do all of this.

I was at home and with the kids and had just gotten 3 deliveries from the neighborhood florist. It was the only place in our small town that remained open during the quarantine.

The Newmans are not just statistics on a chart. Michael and Dolores were wonderful people who lived important lives.

The delivery man was wearing a mask but I could tell by his eyes he was sorry for us.

He realized he had just been at the house less than two weeks ago to deliver flowers after Mickey passed away.

He was silent when I told him Sean’s mom Dee was gone too.

Michael and Dolores “Dee” Newman were married for 59 years and raised 3 children: Donna, Michael and Sean.

They lived in the same four-story walk-up apartment in Brooklyn for over 50 years.

Mickey was in the Air Force before he met Dee and always talked about how proud he was of his service.

He was stationed at Hickam Airforce base in Hawaii and worked in intelligence.

After his service in the Air Force was over, he joined the New York City Fire Department and was with them for 23 years as part of Engine Company 323 in Brooklyn.

Dee was a homemaker and had a part-time job working with a dentist in the neighborhood for close to 20 years.

She was also an amazing cook. She made one heck of an Italian meatball -- it was legendary.

Mickey was no slouch either when it came to cooking – he was head chef whenever he had a tour at the firehouse.

Mickey was also a runner. He ran over 800 races and documented each one in notebooks with the weather conditions and his time.

We celebrated together the day he reached that 800th race milestone.

The Newmans had a locker at Silver Point Beach Club in Long Island for decades. Every summer they took the family there several times a week.

That’s where Sean learned to surf and became a lifeguard.

Mickey loved the beach. He paddle boarded and played tennis while Dee knitted.

And oh, how they adored their grandchildren. Donna would bring her daughter Danielle by all the time to stay with them.

Dee never missed a Grandparent Day at school, a Christmas show, dance recital or swim meet.

Danielle went everywhere Mickey went growing up. They were best buddies.

With their health declining over the last few years, Mickey and Dee were both having a tough time getting down the stairs.

We tried to persuade them to move to another place with easier access but they lived in a rent-controlled building and it was hard to convince them to give that up.

They did let us send home health aides into the house but the visits to the ER were becoming regular.

Sean started looking into assisted living.

We got Mickey into a nursing home/rehab center for a few months. He had dementia and needed constant supervision.

Sean found an assisted living facility not far away for Dee. It was one of the only places that agreed to let Mickey move into the same facility -- once he was back on his feet.

Sean and his sister were taking turns visiting them. And Danielle would bring them the foods they loved.

We prayed that one day Mickey would be well enough to join his wife. This was the first time in their lives they had been apart like this.

And then came COVID-19.

Mickey’s nursing home went into quarantine. Sean could no longer visit.

A week before his dad died, someone called to let us know Mickey was being switched to another floor so they could let more patients in.

From what I know now, I believe the new patients were ones recovering from COVID -- thanks to a statewide mandate from Governor Andrew Cuomo.

On March 28th, Sean got a call and was told that his dad wasn’t well. He had a fever and his lungs were filling up.

A few hours later he was dead.

We assumed he had the coronavirus. We only got confirmation when we saw it on his death certificate.

My husband has seen a lot of grief in his life. But, for him to break the news to his mom that her husband was dead was the hardest thing he’s ever done.

Her heart was broken. They were married for almost 60 years.

How could she go on without him? We assured her that as soon as the pandemic was over, we’d all be together.

I encouraged her to hold on until then.

Sean was able to visit his mom once after that.

He brought her some orchids but had to leave them at the front desk.

He saw her, standing six feet away with a mask on, and told her he loved her. She started to cry before he left.

He would never see her again.

Dee had told Donna over the last few weeks that some workers there were sick. She also said residents weren’t obeying the rules – they were going outside for newspapers and coffees without masks on.

They were coming back without washing their hands.

As family members, we were told we couldn’t come to see Dee for risk of bringing in the virus. But the people who lived there were still coming and going.

Why was this happening?

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The next 48 hours after Sean visited, Dee’s health went downhill.

She was moved to the hospital. We didn’t hear much from the doctors.

Sean talked to his mom the morning before nurses moved her to a different floor in the hospital.

She needed more oxygen and her throat was hurting. She had a cough and a fever.

The last thing she asked Sean to do was get some Easter gifts for the kids. She asked him, could he put her name on them?

The doctor called us the next day to tell us she was in and out of consciousness. They gave her more oxygen.

A day later, she died.

Even though she got the virus in the nursing home, her death was not counted that way -- because she died in a hospital.

I’ve heard some experts say this is to make the number of nursing home deaths appear smaller. Like so many other things having to do with this tragedy, it doesn’t make sense.

Our grief and confusion have turned to anger. We are learning more about how elder care homes were turned into death traps.

The order to return recovering COVID patients into these facilities made them, and others, sitting ducks.

Our most vulnerable loved ones could not protect themselves.

But Governor Cuomo is too busy trying to protect himself and rewrite history.

He goes on CNN all the time to yuck it up with his brother while many of us wonder if any talk show host will ask questions about the nursing home tragedy.

At this point, all we are hearing is the governor trying to shift the blame, saying -- “not my responsibility” “above my pay grade.” Or “we did everything we could to the best of our ability.”

If that’s your best, Mr. Cuomo, you should be ashamed.

The Newmans are not just statistics on a chart. Michael and Dolores were wonderful people who lived important lives.

They were good citizens, had families and loved being New Yorkers. But the governor of New York failed them.

I can only pray that lessons are learned after this.

Maybe their deaths won’t be in vain.

What should happen next? A federal investigation? Hearings?

What I do know is this: Our loved ones deserved better.

The one thing that brings us comfort is knowing Mickey and Dee are together again.

They were never two people together. They were one unit.

You often hear stories about how when one person dies, their spouse follows. They just can’t live apart.

I tell my kids that Grandpa Mickey asked God to call Grandma Dee -- because he missed her.

She heard God’s message. She missed him too.

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When she was ready, he held out his hand and she went to him.  And now they’re in each other’s arms, watching over us.

I only wish Governor Cuomo had watched over them, too.

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