HILLSBOROUGH – Staff members at the Bridgeway Care and Rehabilitation Center in Hillsborough were trying to think of a way to do something to honor the patients that had passed away due to the coronavirus.
Nancy Hill, who is the director of social work at the center, pitched an idea about planting a tree as a living memorial to honor those patients in front of the building.
The idea came to Hill from using gardening as a stress reliever for herself when the coronavirus had hit the center hard during the early stages of the pandemic.
The virus spread through the Generation Village section of the building where the center holds its memory care program that offers services for people that are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other memory impairments.
A total of nine patients from the Generation Village passed away from COVID-19, all during an 18-day period.
Andy Harris, an administrator at Bridgeway, loved Hill’s idea and ran with it, setting up a COVID-19 memorial service to honor the nine fallen patients that was held on Aug. 11 and streamed live on Facebook.
“We needed to do something,” Hill said. “A tree is a living thing. It can be used as a living memory for those that have passed away and a place where families come to honor them.”
Thanks to Central Jersey Nurseries, a tree was placed in front of the building and a plaque commemorating those that passed away from COVID-19 was put next to the tree.
The plaque was donated by owners of Bridgeway Senior Healthcare, the Pelligrino and Rivera-Dugenio families.
CEO Don Pelligrino started off the ceremony by sending his condolences to the families of the patients who passed away and commending the entire staff at Bridgeway and the staff at the Avalon Assisted Living Residence for their hard work and dedication during the pandemic.
Hill later spoke about her idea to have a living tree be a tribute to the patients who lost their lives to COVID-19 in a tearful speech.
“It’s about keeping the memory of that person alive,” Hill said. “Even though their body is not there, their memory is still there and lives on.”
The event included a special commemoration of each person who passed away, with Hill and a few nurses in the unit handing out flowers to family members who attended the ceremony. A prayer for all the victims was performed afterwards.
Bridgeway Hillsborough also honored one of its staff members, Juanita Lopez, who passed away from COVID-19 as well. Lopez started working at the center just a few months after it opened its doors eight years ago.
Hillsborough Township Deputy Mayor Shawn Lipani also spoke on behalf of the community during the event.
The ceremony concluded with owners Dr. Rebecca Rivera and Anthony Pelligrino unveiling the plaque.
The center has held memorial services for patients in the past and Hill says they will try to do more memorials going forward that will involve the tree in front of the building.
She also added that the living tree memorial can be used as a living memory for all patients who pass away, not just ones from COVID-19.
With many family members still not being able to come to the facility to visit their loved ones or be with them when they pass away because of COVID-19 restrictions, Hill said visitors can use the living tree memorial as a way to grieve a loss or pray for those in need.
It can also be a place for health care workers at the center to remember their patients as many staff members develop relationships with those they take care of.
“It’s a place for people and staff to go and remember their loved ones,” Hill said. “They can feel free to pray and grieve outside and have something to remember the person they lost.”