A wall pasted with the faces of seniors who perished from COVID-19 exposure was erected in Brooklyn on Sunday afternoon named “We Care” Memorial.
The ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic have laid waste to the city for over a year now, but still the effects of the deadly virus are being felt. Calling themselves “COVID orphans,” sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren of those who died in nursing homes arrived at 380 Henry Street to mourn the loss of family members taken too soon as a result of the novel coronavirus. Many attendees clutched photographs of the deceased—taken during a simpler time—as they looked upon the cardboard wall with tears welling in their eyes.
Touted as a celebration of life, individuals could not help but be overwhelmed with grief after scanning picture after picture, each one depicting a person no longer with us, and, in turn, a reminder of 2020’s horrors.
This memorial was hosted just a few days shy of the March 25th anniversary of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s advisory, which allowed hospitals to relinquish COVID-19 positive patients back into nursing homes and other facilities. Mourners gathered to remember those who perished as a consequence of this action—and to point the finger of blame at Cuomo.
Organized by the Arbeeny Family—who lost a beloved member of their household, Norman Arbeeny, after he contracted the deadly virus while at the Cobble Hill Health Center in Brooklyn—they believe that the nursing homes’ deaths were a direct result of Cuomo’s directive. While the Arbeeny family also declared that they support nursing homes for the difficult job they had to do, not all of the grievers felt that way.
Haydee Pabey said that the Governor’s office, the nursing home, and Department of Health are at fault for her mother’s untimely death. “I blame both the Governor and the Health Commissioner for drafting that March 25th [directive] ordering hospitals to send COVID positive patients back. [The Governor] is not taking responsibility and he needs to be held accountable,” Pabey told amNewYork Metro.
During the height of the pandemic Pabey believed her mother, Elba Pabey, to be safe within the Isabella Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing Care. But then she received a phone call from a doctor stating that her 72-year-old mother was dying from the coronavirus.
Pabey felt betrayed by the nursing home for not informing her when her mother first tested positive for the virus and waiting until she was dying before making the traumatizing call.
“She was conscious, but she had labored breathing and struggling, and these were indications not told to us days prior that she was ill. We later found out that in March, April, May, the nursing home took in 52 COVID positive patients and I know that contributed to my mother’s death,” Pabey said solemnly, adding, “We thought this was a place that could be trusted, and we feel betrayed that they did not provide the care and this nursing home lost over 100 seniors during the year to COVID.”
A doctor presented Pabey with two options, leave her mother at the facility to die comfortably or send her to an overcrowded hospital. Pabey and her family were at a loss. Initially they decided to send Elba to the hospital, but when EMS arrived to transport her, Pabey changed her mind. Instead she snuck into the facility when EMS entered the nursing home to say goodbye to her mother one last time.
“I sang to her and I told her how much I loved her,” Pabey said, weeping. “And then afterwards the administration kicked me out. I was escorted out by security,” Pabey stated with tears in her eyes as she recalled her mother’s last moments while looking upon the wall.
The memorial wall stretched across the street and was laden with vibrant flowers and messages of love. About 15,000 pinecones were also gathered in baskets at the foot of the wall to represent the number of people lost to the virus. Despite the love poured into the memorial, anger was also at the forefront with a sign reading “Apologize Andrew” situated at its center.
Dawn Best also lost her mother, Carolyn to the virus and told amNewYork Metro that she has some choice words for Cuomo that she wishes she could say to him face to face.
“How dare you send COVID into the nursing homes! How dare you not protect the most vulnerable amongst us! How dare you lie about the numbers, you are criminal!” Best yelled.
Elected officials like Assembly member Ron Kim and City Council Member Brad Lander joined the memorial and paid their respects joining with the mourners in demanding that Cuomo apologize for his actions and be removed from power.